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Funding for AI research to fight breast cancer

Posted: 29th June 2020

A $2.26 million grant has been awarded through the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) to a collaborative group led by St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne and St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research and supported by BreastScreen Victoria. 

A ground-breaking Australian study using Artificial Intelligence (AI), the project aims to transform breast cancer screening in a way that improves detection, lowers harm, reduces cost, and causes less stress for women undergoing a mammogram. 

The cross-disciplinary team includes Dr Davis McCarthy, Head of SVI's Bioinformatics & Cellular Genomics Lab, project lead, Dr Helen Frazer, Clinical Director of St Vincent Hospital Melbourne's BreastScreen Victoria clinic (the State's largest), colleagues from St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne and collaborators from the University of Melbourne and the University of Adelaide.

“Around 3,000 Australians die of breast cancer every year. The key to boosting survival rates is early and accurate detection,” says Davis.

The funding will allow the team to embark on a broad-based study to take AI for breast cancer detection from research breakthrough to clinical tool.

A key component is a series of ‘real world’ studies where the researchers will use an algorithm they have trained to detect breast cancer in mammographic images. They will test their algorithm alongside scans that are done each day in the BreastScreen clinic.

Dr Frazer says the project has the potential to not only tailor the program to meet each woman’s individual needs, but also enhance the experience for women.

“A woman who has a mammogram today would expect to get her result of an all clear in about two weeks’ time. With AI, this result could be instantaneous.

“By using AI we are confident we’ll be able to deliver more accurate results more quickly, reducing the stressful time spent waiting for the result,” says Dr Frazer.

Davis welcomed the generous support of the MRFF, which will fund the multidisciplinary partnership.

“In addition to our ‘real world’ study, this grant will support the development of AI approaches to identifying personalised risk factors for breast cancer and research on consumer and clinician engagement. By the end of the grant, we aim to have AI software that improves mammogram screening ready for use in St Vincent’s BreastScreen clinic.”

Davis’ work is carried out through a joint appointment with the University of Melbourne and is generously supported through philanthropy, via a donation from Paul Holyoake and his wife, Marg Downey.

For more information please see: Bioinformatics & cellular genomics