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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
15 June 2023
Scots team pioneer AI breast cancer screening

A consultant analysing a mammogram | Alamy

Scots team pioneer AI breast cancer screening

A breast screening technology that uses artificial intelligence (AI) has been found to detect abnormalities that would be missed using current screening procedures.  

The breakthrough development by the University of Aberdeen, NHS Grampian, and Kheiron Medical Technologies analysed 220,000 mammograms from over 55,000 people to determine how well the AI tool could detect breast cancer.  

The software, named ‘Mia’, was assessed by a research team from the University of Aberdeen. Analysis found that the technology was successful in identifying potentially missed cancers, known as interval cancers – an invasive cancer diagnosed within the three-year period after a normal result.  

The university team found that Mia would have suggested recalling 34.1 per cent of women that would go on to develop cancer in between screenings.  

Dr Clarisse de Vries, radiology imaging researcher at the University of Aberdeen, said: "Similar to a human expert, Mia can examine a screening mammogram and give an opinion as to whether that person should be invited back for additional investigations.  

"Mia has previously been developed and tested on some groups, but until now had not yet been used on data from the NHS in Scotland.  

"Our finding is a massive step forward in using AI technology in diagnostic medicine – we showed that once ‘tuned’ to the local environment, AI can be of enormous benefit to clinicians and importantly, people who may be at risk of developing cancer."

She added: "Our results show that AI, and in this case Mia, offers huge potential for detecting cancers that may otherwise be missed.  

"Fundamentally however, our study shows that AI tools must be tested first and tuned for the local population and conditions, and we have been fortunate to have been able to do just that here in Grampian.

"Previously, it was unclear whether AI tools developed elsewhere could be used in different settings and screening centres. Now we know there are risks in just taking an AI tool developed elsewhere and implementing it locally. You must first test the tool on the local data to ensure it will work as expected."

Peter Kecskemethy, chief executive of Kheiron Medical Technologies, said: "Working with NHS Grampian and University of Aberdeen teams has been an immense privilege. They are the UK pioneers of how AI technology should be evaluated and implemented in radiology, and we could not be more excited about collaborating on the next stage of the journey, which is assessing how best to use Mia in a live clinical setting."    

Professor Roger Staff, head of imaging physics at NHS Grampian, added: "This is a critical study, identifying the steps required to get this technology into service. Although the results indicate that the technology is not quite 'plug and play,' it has the potential for major health and operational gains for the service."

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