The future has arrived! How AI could save lives and money

Do you remember when intelligent computers belonged only in science-fiction films like ‘Star Wars’? When talking to machines seemed like something from ‘Tomorrow’s World’?

Tom is living with lung cancer

Well, as anyone with a ‘smart’ TV or phone can tell you, the future is already here. Artificial Intelligence (or ‘AI’, as it’s known) is very much a reality, rapidly becoming part of our everyday lives.

‘Virtual assistants’ such as Siri or Alexa are popping up everywhere. We can tell them to choose our entertainment, dim the lights, turn the music up or down, or even to switch on the central heating before we head home.

These are exciting times; and now AI is also beginning to play a key role in medicine - including lung cancer diagnosis.

"Researchers at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford think they’ve found ways to use Artificial Intelligence that can look for nodules, the large clumps of cells that can be the very early signs of lung cancer."

We know the vital importance of identifying the disease at the earliest possible stage. If it’s spotted soon enough, doctors have a much better chance of being able to provide curative treatment.

There’s another great advantage to early diagnosis: it can save money.

It’s no secret that the NHS is under huge financial pressure. When it was launched in 1948, the UK population was a little over 50 million – now it’s nudging towards 66 million. So the service has to deal with a lot more people, and many of us are now living far longer.

To serve this growing, ageing population, more medicines, equipment and facilities are required every year, on top of paying for staff and new advances in therapies and services – the list goes on and on, and it’s inevitable that the cost of running and maintaining the NHS continues to rise.

In fact, the more successful the NHS becomes at keeping us alive and well, the more money it needs.

Researchers at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford think they’ve found ways to use Artificial Intelligence that could save the NHS billions of pounds. They’ve developed systems that look for nodules, the large clumps of cells that can be the very early signs of lung cancer.

Using conventional methods, it can be hard to tell if these nodules are harmless – so, to keep an eye on how they progress, patients often need more scans, which can mean added risk to the patient and extra cost to the NHS.

Clinical trials of the new AI system show that it can spot the harmless cases, so saving the NHS money - and the patients several months of anxiety. It can also diagnose lung cancer much earlier.

The research team has now started a company called Optellum to explore the commercial potential of the new system.

Its chief science and technology office, Dr Timor Kadir, believes that NHS resources freed up by using the new system could be redirected to screening for lung cancer, which could allow more than 4,000 people a year to be diagnosed much earlier.

That all sounds like a win-win to us. Smart technology in every way!

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