​​Breast cancer breakthrough: NHS develops ‘exciting’ new technique to ‘radically improve

Trisha Goddard discusses her breast cancer in 2018

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Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London are collaborating with AI startup Owkin in developing deep learning artificial intelligence models to identify patients whose breast cancer tests positive for a gene called HER2. HER2 is a signature gene that plays an important role in the progression of aggressive forms of breast cancer.

HER2 is found in up to a quarter of all breast cancer cases, affecting up to 14,000 women in Britain every year.

Fortunately, this type of cancer is very responsive to certain treatments, which is why AI models like this could potentially save thousands of lives by diagnosing cases early.

The use of anti-HER2 therapies has dramatically improved survival rates for breast cancer patients.

However, accurately quantifying HER2 levels remains a challenge for doctors.

At present, human pathologists analyse tissue sample slides to detect the presence of HER2 proteins.

The new AI models being built will use deep learning trained on hundreds of retrospective tissue samples to effectively detect the overexpression of HER2.

Thomas Clozel, Co-Founder and CEO of Owkin and former clinical onco-haematologist, said: “While breast cancer treatment has been transformed in recent decades, the disease still takes three-quarters of a million lives every year.

“By using AI to better spot some of the most aggressive forms of cancer, it has the potential to radically improve outcomes for patients across the NHS and beyond.”

“Research suggests that many more women could benefit from targeted breast cancer treatments – we just need to find them.

“We hope to help thousands more women to benefit from targeted anti-HER2 treatments in the UK every year, with the transformative drugs able to extend and save patients’ lives.”

Dr Sheeba Irshad, breast cancer medical oncologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ said: “Anti-HER2 therapies are a class of medicines used to treat all stages of HER2-positive breast cancer, from early-stage to metastatic. HER2 evaluation is a complex and evolving field.

“This is an exciting partnership between Owkin, King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ to help understand if artificial intelligence methods such as deep learning algorithms have the potential to facilitate clinical decision making in the breast cancer patient pathway.”

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Jakob Nikolas Kather, physician-scientist and assistant professor at the University of Aachen, Germany, and visiting professor at the University of Leeds, who is not involved in this study, said: “Owkin’s project to supplement breast cancer diagnosis with AI could speed up the detection of aggressive subtypes of cancer.

“This could ultimately make diagnostic procedures more objective and reproducible, and help more women to receive optimal treatment.”

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