On ‘Wear A Hat Day,’ Tip Your Cap To Artificial Intelligence
Alongside raising awareness of brain tumour research, I look at a couple of ways AI has improved the diagnosis of this devastating & underfunded disease
Today in the UK, we celebrate Wear A Hat Day! It’s now been 11 years since Brain Tumour Research launched this quirky annual event to support its worthy campaigning activity and raise vital funds for discovery research. And it’s easy to understand why. Brain tumours are indiscriminate — they kill more children and adults under 40 than any other cancer, which is why it’s almost unbelievable that a mere 1% of UK cancer spending goes to the disease.
2021’s Wear A Hat Day also honours key workers, to whom we owe so much after the past year. Take NHS workers, for example. These lionhearts throw themselves into the eye of the storm every day to make sure people suffering brain tumours (and, of course, other diseases too) continue to receive essential healthcare services through the pandemic. I’m proud to be part of the tech world, which is actually giving back something invaluable to the NHS and its patients: Artificial Intelligence.
AI has many applications in medicine, offering varied benefits to both patients and healthcare workers. The future opportunities for AI in medicine are also numerous, as I’ve discussed in a few previous blogs:
The healthcare sector relies on lots of AI technologies that use deep learning. This uses complex mathematical algorithms (sometimes called deep neural networks) trained to identify patterns in vast data sets and carry out a range of tasks, such as image analysis.
These work best when applied to specific-use cases involving fairly standard, repeatable situations, with large amounts of data on a single and simple question. IBM’s Watson tried to bite off more than it can chew in this respect, which is why the system has turned out to be a slight disappointment beyond its Jeopardy skills. However, we can’t say the same of all AI systems in healthcare. 2020 may stand out as the year Covid-19 wreaked havoc across the globe, but it was also memorable for massive strides in AI-led disease diagnosis, including brain tumours.
In February 2020, for instance, a study found that a process combining advanced imaging tech and AI can accurately diagnose brain tumours in less than 3 minutes during biopsy surgery. Isn’t that incredible? This usually takes much longer using the standard approach of intraoperative pathology analysis (around 40 minutes at best), while the new method allows for near real-time diagnosis. It also reduces the risk of removing normal tissue, which can often mean longer life expectancy and a minimised chance of impaired motor function, memory loss, or vision problems.
Late last year, researchers also developed a groundbreaking new machine learning approach capable of classifying gliomas (a common type of brain tumour) into low or high grades with almost 98% accuracy — and without the need to go under the knife at all. This progress is not only awe-inspiring, but crucial too. The choice of treatment plan for a brain tumour patient heavily depends on the grade of their tumour, so the discovery is a game changer in this sense, allowing doctors to choose the best individualised treatment plan in the circumstances. This wasn’t often possible using MRI scans, the traditional method used to diagnose brain tumours.
Both of these developments are inarguably amazing, but any approach promising to eliminate the common need for surgeries in brain tumour prognosis and diagnosis gets my vote. These surgeries can be incredibly time-consuming and dangerous, especially if the tumour is in a tricky-to-reach part of the brain. So, any scientists looking to move in a new and improved direction…I take my hat off to them! (Although technically I don’t —my hat’s going nowhere for the day).
And with that little idiom, we come full-circle back to Wear A Hat Day. We can’t all be out there saving the world with AI, but we can do our bit from home during lockdown. So, if you have some spare jingle in your jeans, please donate to Brain Tumour Research. If not, no worries — just pop on the silliest hat you can find and share a snap on social media to raise awareness.