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Google DeepMind wants to use machine learning to help treat certain cancers

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deepmind health-news-wonky screenshot of deepmind’s website

Google DeepMind is launching a project to reduce the time it takes doctors to prepare treatment for head and neck cancers. Alphabet’s London-based artificial intelligence division has partnered with the UK’s National Health Service and will be conducting the research in coordination with the University College London Hospital.

Head and neck cancers are hard to plan treatment for because of their close proximity to important parts of the body. Before any kind of radiation treatment, clinicians will prepare a detailed map of where radiation will be administered on a patient in order to avoid damaging surrounding tissue. DeepMind says planning can take doctors up to four hours for head and neck cancers, and it hopes that by applying machine learning it will be able to automate parts of the process and reduce that planning time down to an hour.

DeepMind is focused on health care

Dr. Yen-Ching Chang, who heads radiotherapy at UCLH, said the technology has the potential to free up doctors, giving them more time to focus on patient care, research, and teaching.

DeepMind said that in addition to freeing up doctors, it hopes the radiotherapy algorithm developed through this research could eventually be used in other parts of the body.

Google DeepMind has made a strong push into health care since the beginning of the year. In February, it launched DeepMind Health and partnered with the UK’s National Health Service to pilot a smartphone app that monitors the conditions of hospital patients. Last month, DeepMind announced it was exploring the use of machine learning to detect signs of certain eye diseases via retinal scans. Demis Hassabis, who co-founded DeepMind in 2010, told The Verge in March that the type of AI employed by DeepMind can be used for medical diagnosis, tracking vital signs, and helping people live healthier lifestyles.

DeepMind Health says all patient records will be anonymized

DeepMind and NHS’s partnership became a topic of concern shortly after DeepMind Health was launched. A data-sharing agreement between the two, which was obtained by New Scientist, revealed DeepMind had wide-ranging access to patient data. Questions were raised over whether it was appropriate for DeepMind, a subsidiary of Alphabet, to have access to confidential, highly sensitive, personal medical data. DeepMind responded by stating all patient data was anonymized and delivered through an unnamed third party.

DeepMind said that all patient records being used in the new head and neck image study will be anonymized.


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