A picture of health | University of Oxford

A picture of health

A consortium of academic, NHS, and commercial partners is using Artificial Intelligence to improve analysis of medical images – and enable better care for patients.

city skylineMedical images (such as CT and MRI scans) take pictures inside patient’s bodies for diagnostic and treatment purposes. ‘Intelligent medical imaging’ uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to analyse these images, offering faster, more accurate diagnosis for patients and helping to identify better treatment options.

The National Consortium of Intelligent Medical Imaging (NCIMI), led by Oxford University, is a network of academic, NHS, and private sector partners, along with charities and patient groups, working to accelerate the potential impact of AI in enhancing clinical imaging.

Established in early 2019 with funding from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, NCIMI aims to transform the diagnosis of disease and chronic conditions such as cancer, heart disease and metabolic health. The network includes large global healthcare companies, six Oxfordshire-based enterprises, 14 NHS Trusts across the UK, and academics from Oxford’s Big Data Institute, Department of Oncology, and the Oxford Institute for Biomedical Engineering.

The network has already supported projects from development to use. The e-Stroke Suite developed by partner Brainomix, which can speed up diagnosis for stroke patients and identify more personalised treatment options, is now being rolled out across the Thames Valley. Real world testing of GE Healthcare’s Critical Care Suite, which uses AI for the detection of pneumothorax (collapsed lungs) is also underway.

Dr Claire Bloomfield, CEO of NCIMI, explains how intelligent imaging can help doctors. “Using AI to analyse medical images can save time for hard-pressed professionals by quickly reviewing images and alerting the medics where there is a problem. It can also support less experienced staff with diagnosis. Spotting a pneumothorax on an X-ray can be hard for a newly qualified doctor but straightforward for an algorithm. We talk about AI ‘augmenting’ medical care. It doesn’t replace doctors – just gives them another tool.”

“The multi-stakeholder approach we take at NCIMI is essential to success,” explains Bloomfield. “Developing AI solutions requires cooperation across the whole healthcare ‘ecosystem’. It’s not just about what the researchers can do in the lab or rolling out solutions in hospitals. Blue sky research, translational work, and product development are all essential to the process. Matchmaking’ partners at the earliest stage and supporting them to work together is also vital.”

“There are challenges in bringing commercial and academic partners together of course,” Bloomfield continues. “The speed needed for effective collaboration for instance. And working out what’s fair for each partner to gain from the project can be sensitive. But the benefits to patients, the NHS, and even the economy, are huge.”

Organising and digitising some of the 40 million medical images taken each year also offers opportunities for research. Images and additional information from patients who have agreed to have anonymised data stored on the NCIMI database will support future research into prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, benefitting the whole population.

Professor Fergus Gleeson, Chief Medical Officer explains: “AI provides a great opportunity to improve medical care, and by providing a real-world clinical environment and partnering academics with commercial companies, NCIMI enables Oxford to be at the forefront of this exciting medical revolution.”

Dr Claire Bloomfield is Chief Executive Officer of NCIMI

Professor Fergus Gleeson is Chief Medical Officer of NCIMI and Head of Academic Radiology at Oxford University

Funders: Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, UK Research and Innovation