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Oxford secures £17.5 million to lead national programmes in AI

This article is more than five years old.

Medical research teams in Oxford will benefit from £17.5 million in new funding thanks to a government initiative to boost new artificial intelligence (AI) healthcare projects that benefit patients with a range of conditions.

Funding will be provided to the University of Oxford through the Government's Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund as part of a £50m investment to establish a network of digital pathology, imaging and Artificial Intelligence (AI) centres, to drive innovation in the use of AI for improved diagnosis and delivery of precision treatments.

Oxford is to be home to one of the five new technology centres across the country, and is also a collaborator in two of the other Centres, with local activities integrated within the Big Data Institute.

The centre that will be led by the University of Oxford is the National Consortium of Intelligent Medical Imaging (NCIMI), in which UK Research and Innovation is investing £10 million. The NCIMI will benefit from a further £5 million of funding provided from its commercial partners. 

Oxford University Hospitals is one of the NHS trusts that will be part of the consortium, which will include large commercial partners, such as GE Healthcare and Alliance Medical, local SMEs and university spin-out companies, as well as charities and patient support groups.


The aim will be to develop new artificial intelligence tools to help speed up diagnosis of cancer, heart disease, genetic disorders and other conditions.

Professor Fergus Gleeson, OUH Consultant Radiologist and a senior researcher in the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre's Imaging Theme, is the Executive Clinician Scientist of the new NCIMI.

He said: "I am very much looking forward to working with our NHS, University and industry partners to promote the development and implementation of AI into the NHS and medical care around the world."

Among the BRC-supported projects that Prof Gleeson has worked on is the use of artificial intelligence in conjunction with routine scans to speed up the diagnosis of lung cancer.

Prof Gavin Screaton, Head of the University of Oxford's Medical Sciences Division, said: "We are delighted that Innovate UK has chosen to support our National Consortium and activity in other centres. 

"We believe that combining the heath data, ethics, clinical and AI expertise within the University with a national NHS network and a range of industry partners has real potential to introduce new solutions which will improve patient care."

Digital pathology

In addition to leading one of the five successful consortia, Oxford is a partner in the centres focusing on digital pathology, led by University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust.

Healthcare technology company Philips will be the principal partner on this major cross-sector collaboration, called project PathLAKE (Pathology image data Lake for Education, Analytics and Discovery).

This initiative has received £10m of government funding to develop innovative AI in pathology. Project PathLAKE partners will embed and demonstrate the diagnostic efficiency of digital pathology, computer-aided testing of pathology samples, and develop novel AI tools to personalised medicine by selecting the right patients for the best therapy.

The project will create a secure data-lake of tens of thousands of professionally annotated images for building deep learning algorithms that can automatically detect cancer. These images and tools will be made available across the consortium including a growing number of SME partners in this sector to develop AI to overcome burgeoning workloads in the UK and establish a world-leading UK digital health industry.

The Oxford centre for Project PathLAKE will receive £2.7m from government and industry. It is led by Dr Clare Verrill, who works in the OUH Cellular Pathology team, and who, with funding through the Oxford BRC's Molecular Diagnostics Theme, was able to establish a successful programme on digital pathology and AI, which generated the pilot data that underpinned the application and allowed the team to take part in a collaborative programme proposal with Philips. 

The various centres will be funded through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, the government's flagship investment programme, which focuses on addressing the opportunities and challenges of the future, and which is managed by UK Research and Innovation. 

The investment marks a significant step in delivering on a major commitment in the Life Sciences Sector Deal (Dec 2017), which built on Oxford Regius Professor of Medicine Sir John Bell's Life Sciences Industrial Strategy (Aug 2017). 

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: "AI has the potential to revolutionise healthcare and improve lives for the better. That's why our modern Industrial Strategy puts pioneering technologies at the heart of our plans to build a Britain fit for the future. 

"The innovation at these new centres will help diagnose disease earlier to give people more options when it comes to their treatment, and make reporting more efficient, freeing up time for our much-admired NHS staff time to spend on direct patient care."