Groundbreaking Way to Search Lungs for Signs of COVID-19

When Covid-19 was at its height in China, doctors in the city of Wuhan were able to use artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to scan the lungs of thousands of patients.

The algorithm in question, developed by Axial AI, analyses CT imagery in seconds. It declares, for example, whether a patient has a high risk of viral pneumonia from coronavirus or not.

A consortium of firms developed the AI in response to the coronavirus outbreak. They say it can show whether a patient’s lungs have improved or worsened over time, when more CT scans are done for comparison.

A hospital in Malaysia is now trialling the system and Axial AI has also offered to donate it to the NHS.

Around the world, artificial intelligence (AI) technologies are being rapidly deployed as part of efforts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Some question whether these tools are reliable enough, though – after all, people’s lives are at stake.

The BBC has asked the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to confirm whether Axial AI’s system will be trialled in the UK but has so far not received a response.

A stumbling block for the tool may simply be that the NHS is not commonly using CT scanners to make images of Covid-19 patients’ lungs. Chest X-rays are much more often used instead. They are less detailed than CT scans but are quicker to do and radiologists can still identify, for example, pneumonia in the images.

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