Mumbai: BMC banks on AI to detect tuberculosis faster, screens X-rays in 3 minutes

MUMBAI: When Covid-19- the newest public health emergency-hit Mumbai, the BMC did more than roping in contract doctors, buying medicines and setting up field hospitals. It used the modern medical tool of artificial intelligence (AI) to track the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

A year later, it decided to use AI to combat one of the oldest scourges-tuberculosis. Between January 2021 and January 2022, it screened chest X-rays of over 14,000 people, using a special software that in three minutes diagnosed presumptive TB in a patient.

BMC executive health officer Dr Mangala Gomare said, “AI has been beneficial because it tells us in three minutes whether an X-ray scan is normal. TB suspects are quickly identified, put through other confirmatory tests, and started on treatment.”

Prashant Warier, founder of the AI company Qure.ai that works with the BMC, said, “The AI-based screening has found many incidental TB cases that would otherwise have been missed.” In other words, it found TB in patients who underwent an X-ray scan for some other problem. Warier said 20-30% of the total TB patients in Mumbai last year were such “incidental” findings.

AI has been around in medicine for a few years in the form of robotic surgery, virtual assistants linking doctors and patients, e-radiology, among others. The appearance of Covid-19, however, cemented AI into public health.

When the pandemic started in March 2020, the BMC deployed Qure.ai’s software at 15 sites, including Covid centres and mobile screenings in slums. RT-PCR kits were not easily available at this juncture, forcing doctors to depend on AI-supported X-ray.

The Central TB division has recently asked districts to screen 3,500 presumptive suspects for every 1 lakh population. “With the CTB and the goal of TB elimination by 2025, AI screening strategy will help,” said Dr Gomare. Already, 9 TB clinics at civic hospitals have got the AI software.

NGO PATH’s TB technical director Shibu Vijayan said it tested the Qure.ai software in Nagpur in 2017. “We were finding 20% extra cases,” he said, adding the software would be rolled out in 10 other states in India. Internal medicine specialist Dr Swapneil Parikh said, “However, AI is only a tool and its usefulness depends on how well it is used. You have to use AI in conjunction with a doctor. It isn’t a cure-all.”

AstraZeneca, Qure.ai and PATH unite to improve early detection of lung cancer in low- to middle-income countries through cutting-edge technology

  • Lung cancer remains a significant burden around the world, with approximately 1.8 million deaths in 2020, emphasizing the urgent need for innovative approaches which detect it sooner
  • Tuberculosis numbers are also significant, as a total of 1.5 million people died from TB in 2020. The 30 high TB burden countries accounted for 86% of the new cases, highlighting the importance of acting now to secure prevention and treatment
  • The collaboration represents an opportunity to revolutionize lung health screening
    in vulnerable communities

4th March 2022:

AstraZeneca, Qure.ai, and PATH announced today a partnership to improve lung health in low- to middle-income countries. The three organizations will collaborate to establish a framework for early diagnosis of lung cancer – a disease that caused an estimated 1.8 million deaths in 2020 alone – in individuals undergoing chest screening for the detection of tuberculosis (TB), using an innovative artificial intelligence (AI) technology. This new three‑way collaboration builds on AstraZeneca and Qure.ai’s existing partnership.

Since December 2020, AstraZeneca has been partnering with Qure.ai through the A.Catalyst Network, a global network of more than 20 AstraZeneca health innovation hubs committed to advancing cutting-edge science and building a sustainable future. Utilizing Qure.ai’s deep learning algorithms for the interpretation of radiology images, this partnership has focused on improving early detection of lung cancer and ultimately reducing lung cancer mortality rates across Emerging Markets.

By extending the partnership to include PATH (a global non-profit that works to accelerate health equity through innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing health challenges), its existing network in countries with high TB incidence can be leveraged to identify clinics screening for lung cancer in addition to tuberculosis. Qure.ai’s artificial intelligence (AI) technology, which is already being utilized in some of these clinics to screen TB only, can now expand its capability, ensuring that more patients can be assessed by a single chest X‑ray that will screen for TB, lung cancer and other potential lung diseases.

The new initiative, which will be piloted in two markets (yet to be confirmed), could be life‑changing for lung cancer patients, utilizing cutting-edge technologies with the potential to identify early-stage lung cancer and improve cure rates. In certain countries, 70–86% of lung cancer patients are diagnosed after the disease has spread beyond the lungs (Stage IIB–IV). In early (Stage IA) diagnosed patients, the 5-year survival rate can be as high as 92%, however, prognosis worsens for patients diagnosed at Stage IV to a maximum 5-year survival rate of 10%.

AstraZeneca will leverage its knowledge of lung cancer as a disease area, to recommend referral sites and provide recommendations to ensure an integrated screening approach. Qure.ai will continue to deploy its AI technologies as part of the three-way collaboration. PATH’s role will include stakeholder mapping, liaison, and advocacy, as well as promoting and recommending public health programs on the importance and impact of screening beyond the detection of TB, especially for indeterminate pulmonary nodules (IPN) and lung cancer.

“Building health systems that are resilient and sustainable will require finding new ways to prevent disease, diagnose patients earlier, and treat them more effectively, particularly in addressing the silent pandemic of cancer. Lung cancer represents a significant burden in low- to middle-income countries where access to screening is limited and rarely happens at early stages, when a cure may be possible. Innovative technology has the potential to transform the delivery of healthcare and, through our partnership with Qure.ai and PATH, we hope to be one step closer to the bold ambition we have set through our Lung Ambition Alliance, to one day eliminate lung cancer as a cause of death, by enabling more people to access care earlier in a reliable and affordable way” said Leon Wang, Executive Vice President International and China Country President, AstraZeneca.

Prashant Warier, CEO and Founder of Qure.ai, said: “This consortium is working to change the way lung health is approached, and we are delighted to be part of it. By applying what we’ve learned from working with infectious lung diseases and leveraging the power of technology, we can detect lung disorders earlier – leading to better patient outcomes at lower costs. We’re coming together to make lung health more accessible, affordable, and universal while keeping patients at the forefront.”

Neeraj Jain, Country Director at PATH India, said: “Few healthcare systems take advantage of AI and technology to advance respiratory care outcomes. It’s time we leverage their potential. PATH is pleased to partner with AstraZeneca and Qure.ai to scale the use of AI for broader lung health screening and accelerate linkages to diagnosis to improve treatment outcomes and quality of care. This is an incredible opportunity for impact as well as for advancing cutting-edge technologies that can transform healthcare by enhancing quality, accessibility, and affordability of healthcare services.”

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