UK-based high-tech startup, Optellum, has developed a machine learning platform that can diagnose early stage lung cancer in patients.

Optellum was founded in 2016 by a team of medical imaging software, artificial intelligence (AI), and clinical experts who met at Oxford’s computer vision lab.

While their goal is to improve cancer diagnosis and treatment across the board, their initial focus is on using their machine learning platform for the management of patients who are at high risk of developing lung cancer, from early diagnosis through to treatment.

Lung cancer is one of the most prevalent forms of cancer globally and has the lowest survival rate among cancers. In 2012, there were an estimated total of 1.8 million new lung cancer cases, accounting for 12.9% of all new cancer diagnoses. Of those cases, 58% occurred in less developed regions.

According to Optellum, during clinical trials their platform was more successful in identifying signs of lung cancer than doctors because, unlike doctors, their platform is able to distinguish whether nodules (large clumps of cells) on lungs are harmless or will become cancerous.

It’s common practice for suspected lung cancer patients to be monitored over time, which involves carrying out a number of scans, to determine the severity of the lung nodules. The introduction of this new machine learning platform would mean less tests, patient anxiety and cost saving by eliminating unnecessary tests. Also with the earlier diagnosis of lung cancer, patients would be able to start treatment earlier which would help improve their chances of survival.

According to Optellum’s Chief Science and Technology Officer, Dr Timor Kadir, their platform could free up resources in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) that could then be used to carry out early lung cancer screening. This could allow more than 4,000 cancer patients a year to be diagnosed earlier.

“Rather than focus on cost savings, within a resource-constrained system such as the NHS, we’re really looking at how to offer better healthcare to more people for the same proportion of GDP. This is the potential of AI in the UK,” said Dr Kadir in an interview with the BBC.

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