Google’s DeepMind Partners with British Doctors on Oral Cancer

August 31, 2016, 10:38 AM UTC
Photograph by Adam Berry Getty Images

Google’s (GOOG) DeepMind subsidiary recently announced a partnership with the Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, in the hope that its machine-learning technologies could help speed up diagnoses of eye conditions. Now, the artificial intelligence division is extending its work with the U.K.’s National Health Service.

DeepMind on Tuesday revealed a partnership with the University College London Hospitals (UCLH) NHS Foundation Trust, and this time it’s all about planning oral cancer treatments.

Treatments such as radiotherapy have to be extremely carefully designed, particularly when they involve the head and neck—radiotherapy is about zapping cancerous cells rather than the surrounding cells, and you really want to avoid damaging the nerves and organs around there if at all possible.

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So UCLH will work with DeepMind to see whether machine learning can cut down the planning time for such treatments. Specifically, they hope to drastically reduce the amount of time taken up by the “segmentation” process, in which clinicians create a detailed map of the areas that are to be treated.

Machine learning essentially involves training computers to learn from the data they are fed, in order to be able to draw their own inferences from information without human aid.

It’s already a well-known technique for things like image-tag suggestions in Facebook (FB) and spam-spotting in Gmail, and this time round it will involve DeepMind’s systems working on the anonymized scans of up to 700 of UCLH’s former oral cancer patients.

“Clinicians will remain responsible for deciding radiotherapy treatment plans but it is hoped that the segmentation process could be reduced from up to four hours to around an hour,” DeepMind said in a statement.

It’s not surprising to see DeepMind push the anonymous angle on this collaboration, and that with Moorfields.

For more on DeepMind, watch our video.

Back in April, the New Scientist revealed that DeepMind had been given access to the non-anonymized healthcare data of up to 1.6 million people served by London’s Royal Free NHS Trust, without the public knowing about it.

The aim of that deal was to build an app called Streams for the better monitoring of kidney disease patients. After the news broke, the trust’s hospitals stopped using the app, which had not been cleared as a medical device by the Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Both the Information Commissioner’s Office (the U.K.’s national data protection authority) and the National Data Guardian (which focuses on health and social care) have since started looking into the DeepMind-Royal Free deal.

Google’s cloud is also used by cancer researchers in the U.S.

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