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AI study aimed at preventing bowel cancer closes

A research trial putting Artificial Intelligence to the test has recruited its final patient as the team leading the study now look at how it could help save lives from bowel cancer.

20 April 2023

COLO-DETECT is led by Newcastle University, South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, and has involved nine other Trusts across the country – including four based in the North East.

It is the largest trial of its kind in the world and used kit called GI Genius. Created by Medtronic, it is added to colonoscopy equipment already in use in hospital units.

Thousands recruited

Colonoscopies are used to diagnose cancer and pre-cancerous polyps within the bowel (colon). Finding and removing these polyps reduces the risk of people getting cancer.

The GI Genuis box is activated in a randomised study after patients signed up to the programme.

The Artificial Intelligence technology works by flagging up a green box on the screen if it spots areas of concern – these can often be missed by the human eye.

The team then investigate that area and remove any polyps, growths which can develop into cancer.

COLO-DETECT is part of COLO-SPEED – which stands for Colorectal Cancer Screening Prevention Endoscopy and Early Diagnosis. This brings together sister studies aimed at preventing and diagnosing bowel cancer early.

COLO-DETECT has recruited more than 2,000 patients and the final patient has been recruited to the trial.

Consultant Colin Rees, who is a Professor of Gastroenterology at Newcastle University, has led the study alongside a team of colleagues at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust.

Professor Rees, who is also President Elect British Society of Gastroenterology, said there are many ways AI could be used to transform medicine as it can analyse details much quicker than people can.

He said: “AI can be used to look at data, it can be used for things like detection, as in the COLO-DETECT study, for imaging and it's very good at picking up patterns in data or results.

“So, AI will be, without question, a major tool used by medicine in the coming years.”

All the data from each partner trust is being checked, with the eagerly anticipated results of COLO-DETECT expected to be published in the autumn.

Professor Rees added: ““Our research led from Newcastle University and South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust is world leading.

“COLO-DETECT is part of our broader COLOSPEED research, which has recruited more than 4,000 patients in addition to the 2,000 in COLO-DETECT, building one of the largest bowel cancer research platforms in the world.”

Second biggest killer

Bowel cancer is the second biggest killer cancer after lung cancer and claims around 16,800 lives a year, or 46 each day, in the UK.

COLO-SPEED is backed by the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, which is part the Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust Charity and gifted £985,000 to help set up a platform which used to support all the COLO group of studies.

It demonstrates the very best of North East collaboration as a partnerships between the NHS and Newcastle University – the University having recently been ranked in the top 10 in the world for Gastroenterology and Hepatology (liver medicine).

More details are available online. You can also find information from the NHS about the symptoms, treatment and causes of bowel cancer.

Patient case study

Retired careers advisor, Jean Tyler, was one of the patients to take part in the trial.

She was invited for a colonoscopy at South Tyneside District Hospital last year after the national bowel screening test for 60 to 74-year-olds sent to her home found blood in her poo.

Her colonoscopy, which was taken as part of the COLO-DETECT study, helped identify five extra polyps in addition to 14 found during her check-up last year.

All the polyps were confirmed to be non-cancerous, but the procedure did find another area of concern. This was confirmed to be cancer after she underwent a follow up CT scan.

The cancer was later removed through keyhole surgery and the 75-year-old has since been declared clear of the disease.

Jean, who is married to Derek, said: “When they rang me up to make my appointment for my colonoscopy, I was asked if I would like to take part in this research.

“I always say yes to these research projects because I know that they can make things a lot better for everyone.

“The screening test had been sent through and I’d thought ‘I can’t be bothered’. Then four or five days later I realised what it was and I thought I’d better make sure.

"I’m so glad I did do it. I would say to anyone make sure you do yours too.”