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News & Trends - MedTech & Diagnostics

Unleashing the power of AI: A game-changer for breast cancer screening in Australia

Health Industry Hub | June 5, 2023 |

MedTech & Diagnostics News: A new clinical trial is on the horizon and set to transform breast cancer screening as we know it. Led by Australian researchers, the ambitious trial aims to harness the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the accuracy, efficiency, and overall patient experience in breast cancer detection.

The prospective clinical trial, BRAIx Project, is slated to commence early next year with a primary objective is to evaluate the effectiveness of an AI reader working in conjunction with radiologists to analyse mammograms.

BreastScreen Australia was phased in from 1991, providing free biennial mammographic screening. Among women in the target age range (currently 50–74 years), around 55% participate in the program, 49% of population-level invasive breast cancers and 73% of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) cases are screen-detected, and mortality is reduced by around 50% for participants and 28% across the population. Additionally, early detection through BreastScreen appears to reduce the intensity of treatment, even after accounting for overdiagnosis.

Adjunct Associate Professor Helen Frazer, the Project Lead and Clinical Director of St Vincent’s BreastScreen, expressed enthusiasm about the upcoming trial. She stated “During the trial, we will gather real-world evidence to assess the effectiveness of using an AI reader in the breast screening program.” She assured participants that they would receive the current high standard of care while evaluating the performance and potential value of the AI reader in enhancing the screening program.

The BRAIx Project secured substantial funding of nearly $3 million from the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) earlier this year. The extensive 18-month to two-year clinical trial is expected to involve approximately 350,000 Australian women. The trial will be conducted across various BreastScreen services, including St Vincent’s BreastScreen, which screens over 60,000 women annually, as well as services in South Australia.

Leading the development of the AI algorithm is Dr Davis McCarthy, head of SVI’s Bioinformatics laboratory. He underscored the immense potential of this technology, remarking that AI and machine learning offer improved pattern recognition through the program’s experience with data.

By augmenting human expertise, the AI algorithm aims to enhance the identification of breast cancers, providing women with more accurate results in a timelier manner. The ultimate goal is to reduce deaths from breast cancer, minimise unnecessary recalls for assessment, and enhance the efficiency and participation in Australia’s breast screening program.

Moreover, the introduction of AI-based models could enable a personalised screening pathway based on individual risk assessment, as opposed to the current one-size-fits-all approach. Dr Frazer highlighted the potential for the AI reader to predict a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer, a promising avenue for exploration in their research.

Apart from these notable advancements, the integration of AI has the potential to expedite the screening process, significantly reducing the current two-week turnaround time for screening results. Dr Frazer expressed hope that this innovative technology could streamline service delivery and provide women with quicker outcomes.

The collaborative effort behind the BRAIx clinical trial involves prominent institutions such as St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research, the University of Melbourne, the University of Adelaide, Monash University, BreastScreen Victoria, and BreastScreen South Australia. As part of the project’s latest stage, bioethicists, philosophers, and a health economist will join the team, closely examining the human and AI interface, as well as assessing the economic viability of the proposed AI-powered screening program.

With the BRAIx Project on the horizon, the future of breast cancer screening appears brighter than ever. Through the integration of artificial intelligence, women across Australia can anticipate enhanced accuracy, efficiency, and personalised care in the fight against breast cancer.

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