Leeds receives £10m investment for AI and digital pathology

Leeds researchers have been awarded a £10.1m investment from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to expand a digital pathology and artificial intelligence (AI) programme across the North of England.

Preparing tissue for the digital pathology scanners. Picture: Leica Biosystems

Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), announced the investment, which forms part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

The University welcomed the announcement of national funding, which will allow the creation of a digital pathology clinical network and research programme. 

The successful partnership bid, led by the University and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, embraces a network of nine NHS hospitals, seven universities and 10 industry-leading medical technology companies, called the Northern Pathology Imaging Co-operative (NPIC). 

The investment of £10.1m from UKRI is boosted by an initial investment of £7m from the companies involved in the programme. 

The consortium is now set to become a globally-leading centre for applying AI research to cancer diagnosis. 

The University’s Vice-Chancellor, Sir Alan Langlands, said: “Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is a global leader in the area of digital pathology for cancer diagnosis, thanks to the close links with academic researchers. We are now expanding this digitisation across the north through this exciting partnership between universities, the NHS and industry. 

“Going forward, new technologies such as artificial intelligence have the potential to transform how we diagnose cancer and other diseases, and the University is making great advances in this area.”

Gazing into the future of digital pathology. Picture: Alex Wright

Dr Yvette Oade, Chief Medical Officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “This is a really exciting step for patients because computers using artificial intelligence can be trained to recognise the patterns of disease. Machines will support clinically-trained pathologists to diagnose cancer faster, better and at lower cost. 

“We can also explore how to use digital pathology as part of precision medicine to ensure patients receive treatments tailored to their disease. This is a huge opportunity for Yorkshire to lead in this new area and further enhance our position as a hub for medical technology.” 

NPIC will put new digital pathology scanners into a network of northern NHS hospitals – including all of the hospitals across West Yorkshire and Harrogate – to gather digital pathology images for training AI systems. This will generate about 760,000 images per year. 

The work will stimulate AI research locally in academic and business sectors, creating jobs and supporting economic growth across the Leeds City Region.

Dr Darren Treanor, a Pathologist at the University and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, is leading the project. Speaking at the Alan Turing Institute, he said: “Digital pathology is a technology with a huge potential to improve healthcare. 

“This new northern co-operative will allow us to use digital pathology to help patients across the region, and provide a platform on which we will develop artificial intelligence tools for pathology diagnosis to be used around the world.” 

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