Artificial intelligence has the potential to make significant contributions in healthcare and medicine. Google Health and Mayo Clinic are now exploring how to leverage AI during the cancer radiotherapy treatment process.

Google says AI could possibly help speed up the “time-consuming and manual” preparation needed for radiotherapy treatment, which is “one of the most common cancer treatments—used to treat over half of cancers in the United States.”

The most labor-intensive step in planning is a technique called “contouring” which involves segmenting both the areas of cancer and nearby healthy tissues that are susceptible to radiation damage during treatment. Clinicians have to painstakingly draw lines around sensitive organs on scans—a time-intensive process that can take up to seven hours for a single patient.

The company’s Health division is working with Mayo Clinic on “research to develop an AI system that can support physicians, help reduce treatment planning time and improve the efficiency of radiotherapy.”

An algorithm would “assist” hospital staff in “contouring healthy tissue and organs from tumors.” Research would also be conducted to see how it could be effectively used in the real world. The two are specifically focusing on head and neck cancers that are especially difficult to contour.  

In this first phase of research with Mayo Clinic, we hope to develop and validate a model as well as study how an AI system could be deployed in practice. The technology will not be used in a clinical setting and algorithms will be developed using only de-identified data. 

This builds on the company’s work detecting diabetic retinopathy during eye scans and mammographies.

Google hopes that “this research will eventually support a faster planning process and potentially help patients to access treatment sooner.”

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