New AI-driven diagnostics technique developed for bowel cancer

The University of Leeds and Roche Diagnostics have collaborated to develop a new AI algorithm that could help clinicians decide on the most optimal treatments for patients with bowel cancer.

According to the University, the test uses AI to measure proteins in some patients with more advanced bowel cancer, something which could lead to better targeted treatments.

During the research, scientists used algorithms to show that some patients with higher levels of specific proteins produced by colorectal cancers – AREG and EREG – benefitted from a protein-inhibiting treatment, while others did not.

Leeds says that, presently, anti-EGFR treatments are only given to patients with ‘advanced, incurable bowel cancers’ but that it is hoped the new technique could be used to identify patients with earlier forms of the disease, who could benefit from the same drugs.

Published today in the Clinical Cancer Research journal, the study is part of the National Pathology Imaging Co-operative programme – and received funding from Innovate UK , Roche Diagnostics and Yorkshire Cancer Research. It also used samples from a previous trial that was funded by Cancer Research UK.

Dr Christopher Williams, lead author of the report and a member of the University’s Division of Pathology and Data Analytics, said: “As more treatment options become available for advanced colorectal cancer, it is becoming increasingly difficult for patients and their doctors to choose the treatment that’s right for them. This test will help patients navigate this decision-making process more easily.”

Kandavel Shanmugam, senior author of the report and Senior Director of Medical Innovation at Roche Diagnostics, also commented: “As increasing numbers of complex tests are developed to target the right cancer treatments to the right patients, developing streamlined methods for delivering test results will be essential to improve cancer care.

“By using artificial intelligence to semi-automate the test process, we anticipate it may be easier for results to be delivered to patients faster to better influence treatment decisions.”

Geoff Twist, Managing Director at Roche Diagnostics UK & Ireland added: “It could also open the door to better personalised treatment for other conditions, helping ensure important decisions about treatment are made as early as possible.

“The vast majority of people have either been affected by cancer or know someone who has – myself included. Which is why I am both proud of our contribution to the study which has delivered this important breakthrough, and grateful to all those who are driving forward improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.”

The news arrives as Bowel Cancer Awareness Month is marked in the UK. According to the charity Bowel Cancer UK, somebody is diagnosed with the disease every 15 minutes across the four nations, with over 16,000 people dying from it every year.

The charity says: “It can affect anybody, regardless of their age or background. It’s treatable and curable especially if diagnosed early, and nearly everyone survives if diagnosed at the earliest stage.”

Common symptoms of the disease include unexplained changes in bowel habits, unexplained weight loss, extreme tiredness, bleeding from the bottom or blood in poo, and pains or lumps in the stomach.