The UK has announced a £13 million investment in cutting-edge AI research within the healthcare sector.
The announcement, made by Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan, marks a major step forward in harnessing the potential of AI in revolutionising healthcare. The investment will empower 22 winning projects across universities and NHS trusts, from Edinburgh to Surrey, to drive innovation and transform patient care.
Dr Antonio Espingardeiro, IEEE member and software and robotics expert, comments:
“As it becomes more sophisticated, AI can efficiently conduct tasks traditionally undertaken by humans. The potential for the technology within the medical field is huge—it can analyse vast quantities of information and, when coupled with machine learning, search through records and infer patterns or anomalies in data, that would otherwise take decades for humans to analyse.
We are just starting to see the beginning of a new era where machine learning could bring substantial value and transform the traditional role of the doctor. The true capabilities of this technology as an aide to the healthcare sector are yet to be fully realised. In the future, we may even be able to solve of some of the biggest challenges and issues of our time.
One of the standout projects receiving funding is the University College London’s Centre for Interventional and Surgical Sciences. With a grant exceeding £500,000, researchers aim to develop a semi-autonomous surgical robotics platform designed to enhance the removal of brain tumours. This pioneering technology promises to elevate surgical outcomes, minimise complications, and expedite patient recovery times.
“With the increased adoption of AI and robotics, we will soon be able to deliver the scalability that the healthcare sector needs and establish more proactive care delivery,” added Espingardeiro.
University of Sheffield’s project, backed by £463,000, is focused on a crucial aspect of healthcare – chronic nerve pain. Their innovative approach aims to widen and improve treatments for this condition, which affects one in ten adults over 30.
The University of Oxford’s project, bolstered by £640,000, seeks to expedite research into a foundational AI model for clinical risk prediction. By analysing an individual’s existing health conditions, this AI model could accurately forecast the likelihood of future health problems and revolutionise early intervention strategies.
Meanwhile, Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh has secured £644,000 to develop a groundbreaking system that offers real-time feedback to trainee surgeons practising laparoscopy procedures, also known as keyhole surgeries. This technology promises to enhance the proficiency of aspiring surgeons and elevate the overall quality of healthcare.
Finally, the University of Surrey’s project – backed by £456,000 – will collaborate closely with radiologists to develop AI capable of enhancing mammogram analysis. By streamlining and improving this critical diagnostic process, AI could contribute to earlier cancer detection.
Ayesha Iqbal, IEEE senior member and engineering trainer at the Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre, said:
“The emergence of AI in healthcare has completely reshaped the way we diagnose, treat, and monitor patients.
Applications of AI in healthcare include finding new links between genetic codes, performing robot-assisted surgeries, improving medical imaging methods, automating administrative tasks, personalising treatment options, producing more accurate diagnoses and treatment plans, enhancing preventive care and quality of life, predicting and tracking the spread of infectious diseases, and helping combat epidemics and pandemics.”
With the UK healthcare sector already witnessing AI applications in improving stroke diagnosis, heart attack risk assessment, and more, the £13 million investment is poised to further accelerate transformative healthcare breakthroughs.
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay commented:
“AI can help the NHS improve outcomes for patients, with breakthroughs leading to earlier diagnosis, more effective treatments, and faster recovery. It’s already being used in the NHS in a number of areas, from improving diagnosis and treatment for stroke patients to identifying those most at risk of a heart attack.
This funding is yet another boost to help the UK lead the way in healthcare research. It comes on top of the £21 million we recently announced for trusts to roll out the latest AI diagnostic tools and £123 million invested in 86 promising tech through our AI in Health and Care Awards.”
However, the announcement was made the same week as NHS waiting lists hit a record high. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made reducing waiting lists one of his five key priorities for 2023 on which to hold him “to account directly for whether it is delivered.” Hope is being pinned on technologies like AI to help tackle waiting lists.
This pivotal move is accompanied by the nation’s preparations to host the world’s first major international summit on AI safety, underscoring its commitment to responsible AI development.
Scheduled for later this year, the AI safety summit will provide a platform for international stakeholders to collaboratively address AI’s risks and opportunities.
As Europe’s AI leader, and the third-ranking globally behind the USA and China, the UK is well-positioned to lead these discussions and champion the responsible advancement of AI technology.