The Royal Marsden supports new national programme of AI research to improve lung cancer screening

Clinicians from The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust are joining forces with other trusts and leading industrial partners across the UK to improve the diagnosis of lung cancer and other thoracic diseases using artificial intelligence.

Working with the NHS England Lung Health Check programme as part of the DART AI research programme, clinical, imaging and molecular data will be combined for the first-time using AI algorithms with the aim of more accurately and quickly diagnosing and characterising lung cancer, meaning patients can avoid more invasive  procedures and can start the right treatment for their specific type of cancer at an earlier stage. Algorithms will also be developed to better evaluate risks from comorbidities such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In addition, the programme will link to data from primary care to better assess risk in the general population to identify at-risk individuals suitable for screening. It is hoped that this research will define a new set of standards for lung cancer screening to increase the number of lung cancers diagnosed at an earlier stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful.

Dr Richard Lee, Consultant Respiratory Physician and Champion for Early Diagnosis at The Royal Marsden, whose role is funded by The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, is the clinical lead for blood biomarker research within the DART AI programme.  

He is also Joint National Clinical Lead for the NHS England Targeted Lung Health Checks Programme, which is piloting mobile lung health checks in areas of high lung cancer incidence, for example by offering health checks in supermarket car parks.  Around 5,000 people attending these lung health checks who are identified as needing further investigations such as low dose CT scans, will be invited to donate a blood specimen as part of the DART AI research trial. These specimens will help to enable the development of laboratory biomarkers which researchers hope will have the potential to make a real difference to how people with suspected lung cancer are investigated.

Dr Lee said: “When cancer is caught sooner, we have a much better chance of being able to treat it successfully, often with less invasive procedures and fewer long-term side effects. This research could give us vital information on the early diagnosis of lung cancer and help us reduce the number of biopsies and PET-CT scans. This would reduce the need for further invasive tests for patients, reduce costs to the NHS, increase capacity and improve accuracy of diagnosis. Results will also provide a base for cutting edge research into novel liquid biopsy and genomic technologies in early lung cancer. In combination with AI biomarkers, the DART trial will reduce the number of scans patients need to find these early stage, potentially curable lung cancers, increasing productivity and the conversion rate of positive screens to reduce patient anxiety and costs.”

The £11 million  DART artificial intelligence (AI) research programme is funded by Innovate UK, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) and industry, led by Professor Fergus Gleeson and the National Consortium of Intelligent Medical Imaging (NCIMI) at the Big Data Institute at the University of Oxford aims to improve the early diagnosis of lung cancer and other thoracic diseases. 

Dr Richard Lee is also leading a team at The Royal Marsden in collaboration with The Institute of Cancer Research, London (ICR) and Imperial College London on research to investigate how they can utilise the latest technology in artificial intelligence to provide better care and treatments for cancer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more here.