In Brief

Theresa May: artificial intelligence can be a ‘weapon’ in cancer research

Prime minister to pledge millions to fund technology that could save tens of thousands of lives every year

Theresa May will unveil plans today to fund artificial intelligence (AI) systems that could save countless lives by spotting early signs of cancer and other diseases. 

In a speech during a visit to Macclesfield, in Cheshire, the prime minister is expected to pledge millions of government funds to research and develop the technology. The move will also create a number of skilled jobs. 

According to The Guardian, May will say: “Late diagnosis of otherwise treatable illnesses is one of the biggest causes of avoidable deaths.”

AI’s ability to identify diseases “with a higher degree of accuracy than is possible by human beings” could make the technology a “new weapon” for the NHS and medical researchers, she will continue. 

The data and technological advances needed to help cut cancer deaths are already available, but a system has not yet been set up to bring everything together, says Sky News.

The plan now is to develop an AI system that can cross-reference patients’ medical records, plus information about their genes and lifestyle, with national data in order to spot those who may be at an early stage of cancer. 

This could prevent around 22,000 cancer deaths a year by 2033.

British Heart Foundation boss Simon Gillespie is among those backing the funding boost. He told the BBC: “Using artificial intelligence to analyse MRI scans could spot early signs of heart disease which may be missed by current techniques.

“This could lead to a quicker diagnosis with more personalised treatment that could ultimately save lives.”

However, there are still “many challenges ahead”, says the broadcaster. These include creating the “right infrastructure within the health service”, as well as ensuring people’s “highly personal data” is handled responsibly.

Sky News reports that the Government has already invested £1.4bn into the “grand challenges” programme, which are a set of four targets, including the growth of AI, aimed at improving the UK’s industrial position in the world. 

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