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News in brief: HDR UK launches new search tool, NHS COVID cases app marks milestone

AI has been front and centre for many health tech news stories over the past few days – from the announcement of Faculty’s new partnership with the NHS, through to a diagnostic technique being developed for bowel cancer by researchers in Leeds.

Here at HTN, we’ve also been recapping recent webinar sessions from our HTN Now April event. The latest releases cover a range of topics, including EPR discussions with the East of England Ambulance service and digital programmes expertise from Greater Manchester Mental Health Trust.

But, as ever, there’s also been plenty of other fascinating stories across the industry – so we’ve compiled some of the best of the rest below, in bite-size pieces…

NHS Digital’s COVID area app hits three million mark

NHS Digital’s Coronavirus In Your Area App – which lets people find out the number of COVID-19 cases near their home – has now been used more than three million times.

The dashboard allows users to check coronavirus cases within one to 10 miles of their postcode, as well as find statistics on positive cases from the previous 10 weeks.

According to NHS Digital, over 65,000 searches were carried out using the app on 4 January – when the third national lockdown was announced in England, and the website has continued to receive over 70,000 views every week.

Alistair Bullward, NHS Digital’s open data and dashboards manager, said: “We believe in improving lives through data and technology, and our Coronavirus In Your Area app empowers people to understand the risk from coronavirus where they live.

“It’s really easy to use as all you need to do is enter your postcode to find out the number of cases in your neighbourhood, and we’ve now seen more than three million searches carried out using the app over the past four months.

“We hope the dashboard will help reassure people as lockdown restrictions are eased, while also reminding them of the importance of following the restrictions that remain in place.”

Mayo Clinic doctors develop AI platform 

In more artificial intelligence news, researchers from Mayo Clinic’s Center for Individualized Medicine have developed an AI platform that can uncover ‘causal drivers and relationships embedded within complex biomedical data’.

Doctors Nicholas Chia, John Kalantari and Kia Khezeli recently tested their machine-learning framework – called Causal Relation and Inference Search Platform (CRISP) – on multiomic colorectal cancer samples, alongside NASA Frontier Development Lab data scientists and machine-learning engineers. The Mayo team presented and published its findings at the IEEE Global Conference on Life Sciences and Technologies.

Dr Chia explained: “It’s like garden weeds. The dandelion keeps coming back because you don’t get rid of the root. Causal inference tells you how to get rid of the root; whereas, an association study just tells you that your poor lawn health is associated with dandelions. Association doesn’t tell you how to solve the problem.”

Dr Kalantari, principal investigator of the study, added: “Identifying causal variables directly from observational data, and differentiating between causal relationships and misleading correlations, is a critical step toward understanding, diagnosing and treating rare and complex health conditions.

“No one, to our knowledge, has developed or applied such causal and invariant approaches for multiomic biomedical data before. By leveraging all available multiomic and clinical data types, the platform’s algorithms can be used to reveal the hidden causes of a disease in order to identify new therapeutic targets and mechanisms for disease prevention.”

Lung cancer detection tech acquired for £21 million

Bould Opportunities has acquired University of York spin-out Cizzle Biotechnology Limited in a multi-million pound deal – conditional on shareholder approval.

Cizzle is focused on patent protected technology for the early detection of lung cancer through the development of a blood test for the CIZ1B biomarker, and has been sold to Bould Opportunities in London for a ‘total consideration’ of £21 million.

The combined entity will be listed on the Standard list and London Stock Exchange, with the support of Midlands law firm Shakespeare Martineau.

Allan Syms, Chairman of Bould Opportunities, said: “I am delighted to have exchanged on the acquisition of Cizzle Biotechnology. I believe that the acquisition presents huge value for Bould Opportunities, with a technology looking to address an urgent clinical need.

“Lung cancer is incredibly hard to diagnose at an early stage as there are few clinical symptoms. However, I believe that Cizzle Biotechnology can provide a solution to this problem through the blood test it is developing for the early detection of a majority of the different forms of lung cancer.”

Keith Spedding, Partner and Business Transaction Specialist at Shakespeare Martineau, added: “The biotech industry is absolutely fascinating, we are seeing huge movements and rapid growth in this market as clinical need increases and technology and innovation races to keep up.  It’s been a long journey but great to get this deal done which will allow Cizzle now to continue to develop its blood test for the benefit of many in the continuing fight against cancer.”

Health Data Research UK launches new search functionality

Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) has announced a new ‘Cohort Discovery’ tool , which allows health researchers to ‘search for and assess data’ and discover ‘research-specific population cohorts across multiple datasets’.

The national institute for health data science’s new search functionality is available on the Health Data Research Innovation Gateway (HDR Innovation Gateway) and is part of an ongoing ‘mission’ to unite the UK’s many health datasets. After being launched in April 2021 across four core datasets, further updates will be added over the course of the year.

Existing users of the HDR UK Gateway are already able to search via keywords and filters, which group resources around specific research themes and topics. But the new functionality – co-developed by HDR UK, the University of Nottingham, BC Platforms (BCP), PA Consulting and the CO-CONNECT project – will give researchers the option to search by specific cohorts or demographic groups.

HDR UK says this will add an ‘extra layer and dimension to data discovery’ and enable ‘new levels of analysis and insights’ that will ‘ultimately feed through to the front line of improved patient care’. Organisations who host the datasets themselves will be able to provide quicker access approvals and retain control over who has access to the data.

Professor Susan Hopkins, Senior Medical Advisor at Public Health England, said: “This is a genuine game-changer for health research. Being able to search for specific demographic cohorts across multiple datasets opens up a vast landscape to really interesting and detailed analysis. The potential to uncover insights that can improve the health of specific groups in society is really exciting”.

Dr Philip Quinlan, Head of the Digital Research Service at the University of Nottingham, added: “It is great to see this tool up and running at scale and available for researchers across the UK and globally. For me it is a phenomenal example of the power of collaboration in health research – to take an initial idea that through development, support, the application of great technology and hard work, becomes something tangible, now playing a part in supporting the UK’s response to COVID-19.”

HTN also recently covered HDR UK’s release of a report into its progress on improving health data through its seven hubs.

MySunrise app recognised

The MySunrise app – which supports cancer patients through their treatment journey at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust has been recognised for its support to patients.

A free app, MySunrise is supported by the Sunrise Appeal, and was originally developed by the Oncology Team at Royal Cornwall Hospital, before being launched at other South West hospitals, including at cancer centres in Torbay, North Devon, Exeter and Plymouth. As well providing the latest information and resources from a patient’s cancer centre, the app also includes videos, other cancer resources and contact information.

Dr John McGrane, Consultant Oncologist at the Royal Cornwall Hospital, said: “We initially created the app to support patients with the right advice and support at the right time whilst undergoing their cancer treatment. With the challenges of COVID, the app is also providing new benefits, allowing us to get up-to-date information directly to patients who might be waiting and worrying at home about their treatment at a very difficult time for them.”

Southampton uses GPS navigation-style tech for spinal surgery

University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust recently reported that it believes it surgeons have been the ‘first in the UK’ to perform spinal surgery using radiation-free 3D technology that is said to be similar to GPS navigation systems used in self-driving cars.

The 7D Surgical System allows surgeons to see the spine via camera technology which then creates a 3D real-time image in just a few seconds – meaning the Machine-Vision Image Guided Surgery technology uses the camera, which is linked to a computer, like a GPS for the spine. It’s hoped that by allowing visualisation of the ‘precise placement of surgical tools and implants’ that accuracy will increase, the risk of errors will reduce and unnecessary radiation exposure will be ‘eliminated’.

Mr Chris Dare, spinal surgeon and clinical lead for the Wessex Spinal Service at University Hospital Southampton, is quoted as saying: “This technology enables us to insert spinal implants around vital structures with even greater precision. Highly complex interventions can be carried out faster and with fewer complications.

“We are delighted Southampton is the first in the UK to evaluate the kit as it supports our continued efforts to adopt revolutionary technology and improve clinical outcomes for our patients.”

The technology is currently being clinically evaluated at three sites in the UK.