UK expert eyes AI technology as coronavirus sweeps the nation

April 13 23:36 2020

As the numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths continue to climb amid upsetting warnings that UK could be the “worst affected” country in Europe, experts are eagerly looking for technologies that could help the fight against the pandemic. Artificial Intelligence, according to researchers from Coventry University, could be one of the “killer technologies” that would make a difference.

AI-based CT Imaging: Possible solution to the bottleneck

“UK doesn’t have sufficient testing,” said recently Professor Chris Whitty, the UK’s chief medical officer, pointing to an increasingly apparent “bottleneck” that could hamper the efforts to screening potential Covid-19 patients. Since the UK government has identified the need for massive Covid-19 testing, researchers are racing to fill the big capacity gap. Among them is Professor Dingchang Zheng, theme lead of Centre of Intelligent Healthcare at Coventry University, also an advocate for AI-based CT imaging as possible solution to the UK health system overwhelmed by large influx of patients.

“CT chest imaging screening has been used as a primary supplement tool in China and other epidemic areas in stratifying risk in patients,” says Professor Zheng, whose research involves collaborating with multidisciplinary teams, “but up till now, CT imaging has not played a big active role in early screening of suspected COVID-19 patients in the UK.” Attempting to transform AI-based CT imaging analysis technologies into efficient diagnostic assessment of UK’s Covid-19 patients, he is actively pushing for a cooperation between the Coventry University and Huiying Medical, a tech startup whose AI-assisted solution has been deployed in 20+ Chinese hospitals for more than 126,000 screenings in the campaign against Covid-19. As unfamiliar as its name may be to the UK public, Huiying Medical has firmly established itself as one of the leading international AI medical imaging players since its founding in 2015, successfully building collaborations with world class institutes including Stanford University, Tsinghua University and Intel.

“Early detection and isolation play a very important role in the control of Covid-19,” says Dr. Xiangfei Chai, CEO of Huiying Medical“based on tens of thousands of Covid-19 cases data in the past two months, our AI screening model has accumulated rich experience and we believe its recognition and diagnosis capabilities will help the doctors a lot.” This former Stanford postdoc then goes on to note that the classification performance of the AI system is approximate to an “an ordinary doctor with 4 years of experiences”.

AI-based decision optimization: UK localized application strategy

“There are many uncertainties during the treatment of a Covid-19 patient, such as what treatment should be applied or when the patient should be sent to the ICU,” says Dr. Chai, “this type of tough decision making is where AI could be of tremendous help.”

Tailored to the specific needs of UK doctors, a CT-based disease tracking & treatment AI recommendation system has been developed by teams from Coventry University and Huiying Medical. “The system can track the patient’s condition according to the proportion of lesions, and predict the patient’s late course of development based on the lesion volume’s rate of change,” says Dr. Chai, “thus appropriate treatment decisions can be made based on that information.”

Thanks to the joint effort of Coventry University and Huiying Medical, the AI solution for Covid-19 has already been deployed in the Affiliated Hospital of Coventry University. Made possible by cloud deployment, the AI solution can be installed within 24 hours with quick server-CT equipment connection and real-time result return, which would for sure facilitate the work of clinical process. Based on the training of more than 4,000 new CT images, the system’s algorithm has an accurate sensitivity performance of 0.96 for classification of Covid-19 and has been widely welcomed by local doctors.

As the cooperation moves on, Professor Zheng notes, a team from Coventry University will be in charge of developing clinical relationship with local NHS hospitals trust to correctly identify unmet clinical needs on COVID-19 for the UK healthcare setting, and also invite clinical experts & radiologists to evaluate the efficiency and reliability of this AI solution. “In addition, to ensure successful implementation of AI solution in the UK, and to maximize the societal impacts,” says Professor Zheng, “an expanded network will be developed by us based on existing connections with other NHS trusts, guideline makers, and local authorities, which will provide additional resources for the adaptation of the AI-based technology, invite more hospitals for the large scale evaluation, and ultimately explore the best implementation strategy for the UK healthcare system to achieve smooth adoption of Huiying Medical’s solution to help our NHS to win the combat with COVID-19.” According to recent news, The NHS has also confirmed it is teaming up with tech firms, including one AI company, to ensure the victory against Covid-19.

“In UK, AI technology can be used as an automatic diagnostic decision support tool to flag future clinical coronavirus severity among those confirmed Covid-19 patients admitted to the hospitals,” remarks Professor Zheng, “better decisions can be made about assessing which patients really needs beds and these who can safely go home.”Ultimately, Professor Zheng hopes that the deployment of AI solution will provide references for updating the diagnosis and treatment guidelines of COVID-19.

Needless to say, the adoption of AI-based technology to the UK healthcare system requires international collaborations with multidisciplinary experts: the UK clinicians, data scientists from Coventry University and AI developers from partners. According to the MoU of Coventry University and Huiying Medical, the two parties will “further develop and evaluate Huiying Medical’s AI-assisted Medical Imaging Solutions for COVID-19” and “discuss joint technology localization and implementation of AI screening and diagnostic solutions in the UK and other European countries”.

“Our research centre of Intelligent Healthcare at Coventry University shares a common mission with Huiying Medical,” says Professor Zheng, “We are aiming to research and develop innovative healthcare technologies and solutions to address unmet healthcare needs and improve the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities, by conducting interdisciplinary research with different partners and stakeholders along the pathway of technology development, adoption, and commercialization.”

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