UK PM Says Cancer-Detecting AI Could Save 22,000 Lives

Ryan Black
MAY 21, 2018


Theresa May, the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, formally announced her country’s intention to fight cancer with artificial intelligence (AI) today.

In a speech, she said that as many as 22,000 lives could be saved by 2033 if AI techniques are used to provide earlier diagnoses—and the tech could allow more than twice that number to have their disease detected at an earlier stage than they would have otherwise.

She also framed the move as an economic benefit: “It will incubate a whole new industry around AI-in-healthcare, creating high-skilled science jobs across the country, drawing on existing centers of excellence in places like Edinburgh, Oxford and Leeds, and helping to grow new ones,” May reportedly said in her speech.

>>READ: Think Healthcare Has Yet to Benefit from AI? 200K Patients Say Otherwise

The UK does benefit from having a single National Health Service (NHS) that may make a massive effort like this technically simpler than it would be domestically. But data access and fidelity remain a challenge everywhere, and the Prime Minister did note that the technologies “depend on the intelligent use of data” and that the country will need “to ensure we have the right infrastructure, embedded in our health system, to make this possible.”

The country put together a £1.4 billion investment—more than $1.8 billion—to further general AI development. That sum, announced in late April, included £300 of private financing in addition to hundreds of millions of pounds of government funding. United States tech giants Microsoft, IBM, and Facebook all contributed undisclosed amounts, and Canadian venture firm Chrysalix added over £100 million and committed to opening a UK office.

The new drive to AI-powered cancer detection tech will fall under the same initiative, one of the country’s “Grand Challenges” set forth by May’s industrial strategy.

“Accelerating research using health data and artificial intelligence will build on the UK’s reputation for cutting-edge science, and lead to transformative improvements in treating patients within the NHS,” British Heart Foundation CEO Simon Gillespie said in response to the new announcement. He cited AI tools like those that can quickly analyze CT scans for signs of cancer as methods already in place to help fight the disease.

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