NHS places £130m bet on AI to treat debilitating conditions

Five regional Centres of Excellence are being supported with more cash to enhance AI-powered diagnostics

NHS cash injection

The government will look to artificial intelligence (AI) to diagnose and treat long-term life-threatening conditions like cancer and Parkinson's with a financial package worth 133 million.

Five Centres of Excellence, located in major cities across the UK, will use a 50 million fund to support existing work in digital pathology and imaging powered by AI. These facilities, which were established in November last year, can also partner with more NHS Trusts to design products based on the digital systems the centres are currently developing.

The work predominantly involves improving the speed and accuracy of diagnostics as well as early intervention treatment. The centres themselves are based in Leeds, Oxford, Coventry, Glasgow and London.

"The UK is a global powerhouse in health research and innovation," said the minister for innovation Nicola Blackwood. "The investments announced today will cement this, and help to further deliver on the NHS's international leadership on applying artificial intelligence to complex health problems."

Meanwhile, a considerable chunk of the fund, some 69.5 million, will be invested through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) scheme to fund four projects. This fund has previously channelled money into projects like 50,000 to improving cyber security in Bristol.

The initiatives include 30 million to develop therapies and technologies that target genetic mutations that predicate conditions including cancer, Huntington's and arthritis.

Elsewhere, the fund includes a 7.5 million cash injection for research into improving the care delivery in adult social care, as well as 14 million for bioscience projects and technologies that could develop new vaccines.

"We've got to bring NHS technology into the 21st century," said the health secretary Matt Hancock. "I've seen for myself how better technology and diagnosis can save clinicians' time so they can concentrate on care.

"The NHS is now spearheading world-leading technologies that can transform and save lives through new treatments, diagnosis techniques and care. I'm determined that the benefits of these advances will improve the lives of thousands of patients whose conditions have long been considered life-limiting."

In the last few years, the NHS has made a considerable effort to strengthen its ability to exploit emerging AI and machine learning technologies in both front-line clinical and back-office contexts. These efforts have arisen through a number of separate schemes.

For instance, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) funnelled 250 million into the newly-created NHSX to establish an AI research facility.

This AI laboratory, independently of the five regional Centres of Excellence, will research and develop practical AI tools to treat conditions like heart disease, dementia and cancer.

The projects also follow several smaller-scale initiatives that are being developed within hospitals, without much national oversight. This includes a partnership between Nvidia and King's College London to build an AI platform to automate radiology diagnostics.

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