Medical

Financial boost for AI in medical image analysis

25th March 2020
Lanna Cooper

Thirona, Quirem and Radboudumc have successfully joined forces in the Radiology of the Future project. All three partners are situated in the East of the Netherlands and each has access to knowledge, skills and expertise in the area of smart and fast medical image analysis processing.

The targeted cooperation has recently resulted in a substantial contribution from the European Regional Development Fund. The Radiology of the Future project will specifically focus on development of algorithms for Artificial Intelligence applications in the area of medical image analysis.

Funds for better, faster and more inventive imaging

Radiologists see right through us with all sorts of equipment. They create images of our body without opening it up. Thanks to this imaging, doctors can assess whether our organs are healthy or not. But this assessment can be better, faster, and more inventive, according to Thirona, Quirem and Radboudumc. With over €1.5m in funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) they launch the Radiology of the Future project.

Automatic analysis by Artificial Intelligence

Thirona, a Radboud university medical centre spin-off, develops algorithms for medical image analysis.

Director Eva van Rikxoort: “Medical images can be analysed easier, more accurately, and more effectively using the algorithms, a type of Artificial Intelligence or AI. It takes some time to develop an algorithm that functions just as well as the average physician, or sometimes even better. But it has great advantages.

"For example, it reduces work pressure for physicians, and can contribute to a faster and more accurate diagnosis for patients. Currently, Thirona analyses CT scans of the lungs, particularly for patients with COPD, for hundreds of hospitals worldwide on a daily basis. In this new project we will develop new algorithms for cystic fibrosis and oncology.”

Precision medicine

Quirem Medical, a spin-off from UMC Utrecht, produces small radioactive spheres (holmium microspheres) used mainly for treating patients with liver cancer and metastatic liver cancer.

Director Jan Sigger: “The spheres are injected into an artery and subsequently get stuck in the capillaries of the tumour. The tumour cells are killed by the local radiation from the inside. Imaging is essential for this treatment. To determine which patients are eligible, to follow the microspheres during the treatment, and to determine the correct dose for each tumour. Imaging is indispensable in this form of precision medicine.”

Research and entrepreneurship go hand in hand

Both Thirona and Quirem are entrepreneurial organisations operating in the field of medical technology. Bram van Ginneken (Professor of Medical Image Analysis) and Frank Nijsen (medical biologist) are involved with the project as Radboudumc representatives.

“This is a good form of collaboration for us,” said Van Ginneken. “We do our research and if the results are promising, it is reassuring to know that there is a company that will do something with them.”

“Unfortunately, that is not always the case,” agreed Nijsen. “Another benefit is that we are all based in the same region. A region in which a lot is happening and where there is a close connection and interaction between research and entrepreneurship.”

Smart algorithms goals

For Van Ginneken, the project funded by ERDF should mainly lead to the development of useful algorithms for oncology.

“An increasing number of treatment options mean that patients with cancer live longer. That also means that an increasing number of scans are made to monitor the course of the disease and its treatment. Does a tumour grow bigger or smaller? Are there more metastases that are suitable for treatment?

"In principle, these questions could in the future be answered by smart algorithms that automatically read and assess scans. We will be developing software that analyses the medical images of colon cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer and bone cancer. Based on this, the treatment team will be able to plan more accurately. In this research and development project we aim to translate knowledge into marketable products that benefit both patient and doctor. And that’s how you make impact.”

Improving accuracy for optimal treatment

The same is true for Quirem and Nijsen. They want to further refine and improve the treatment. For instance, by being able to follow the path of the microspheres in the patients, not only beforehand but also during the treatment.

Nijsen said: “Our microspheres can be made visible during the treatment. If you know where they get stuck, you can also calculate the radiation that they emit. That dose can then during the treatment be compared to the dose which is needed to properly treat the tumour. It would be great if, as a result of the project, we would be able to calculate the location and size of the tumour automatically, followed by a recommendation about the optimal dose of radiation. Those are the prospects of Radiology of the Future.”

Boost for innovation

“This ERDF contribution seamlessly fits in with the new emphasis in the economic policy of the province of Gelderland,” said Christianne van der Wal, Gelderland representative for Economy.

“The Arnhem-Nijmegen region is home to companies with a large innovative capacity, which contribute to solutions for the healthcare sector. I am glad this way we can provide a boost for these innovations.”

Thirona develops computer algorithms for medical image analysis, currently mainly focused on CT scans of the lungs. Thirona is a Radboud university medical center spin-off, founded by Eva van Rikxoort and Bram van Ginneken in 2014. The company is located in Nijmegen and currently employs over 30 people.

Quirem Medical develops holmium microspheres that are mainly used in the treatment of liver cancer. Quirem Medical is a spin-off of UMC Utrecht, founded by Jan Sigger and Frank Nijsen in 2012. The company is located in Deventer and currently employs over 30 people.

ERDF/OP East The Operational Programme (OP) East Netherlands ERDF 2014-2020 is a joint funding programme for the provinces of Overijssel and Gelderland, and its objective is a structural strengthening of the economy in Gelderland and Overijssel. ERDF stands for European Regional Development Fund.

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