Much has been made of artificial intelligence of late, and in particular the value it holds within the ICT space, but the medical field stands to benefit from the technology too, and Microsoft has recently developed an AI tool to assist with the early detection of cervical cancer to illustrate its potential.

The firm partnered with a Mumabi-based cytopathologist at the SRL Diagnostics’ Central Reference Laboratory in order to create the new AI tool, and are working with it in order to help doctors in India.

“The proportion of cytopathologists in India is very low with respect to the number of patients. At SRL Diagnostics, we receive more than 100,000 Pap smear samples every year and there are only a few trained cytopathologists who are supposed to examine such slides,” explains Dr. Arnab Roy, technical lead for new initiatives & knowledge management at SRL Diagnostics.

“What’s more, nearly 98% of these samples are normal and it’s only the remaining 2% that requires further intervention. We were looking for ways to ensure our cytopathologists were able to find those 2% abnormal samples faster,” he adds.

To assist in their efforts, and screening for sings of cancer in particular, the team from Microsoft and SRL trained an AI tool by given it thousands of annotated smears to analyse.

“We wanted to create an AI algorithm that could identify areas that everybody was looking at and create a consensus on the areas assessed,” notes Manish Gupta, principal applied researcher at Microsoft Azure Global Engineering.

The result is that the detection API created from this project is now able to detect abnormalities with a high degree of accuracy, which means that doctors in the region can more effectively deal with the samples that require attention, as opposed to looking at hundreds of samples per day.

“The API has the potential of increasing the productivity of a cytopathology section by about four times. In a future scenario of automated slide preparation with assistance from AI, cytopathologists can do a job in two hours what would earlier take about eight hours!,” enthuses Dr. Roy.

With an estimated 67 000 women in India dying from cervical cancer every year, this new tool has the potential to greatly increase the number of patients that doctors can treat.

“Our constructs of AI networks and multi-party collaboration with leading healthcare providers aim to unlock AI innovation to help in early risk stratification and move to better healthcare,” says Anil Bhansali, corporate VP for cloud & AI Platform at Microsoft.

“I am really excited with the partnership that we have with SRL Diagnostics where we have been working together, using the power of AI, to increase the productivity of cytopathologists, leading to better results and accurate outcomes,” he concludes.