AI picks out transplant organs ‘with much greater accuracy than humans’
Artificial intelligence (AI) can pick donor organs for transplant with much greater accuracy than humans, British researchers have said as they develop a new technology.
Experts have secured more than £1 million in funding from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) for a project that uses AI to increase the number of organs available for transplant.
At the moment, surgeons must examine donor organs and assess whether they think they are good enough quality to be suitable for transplanting into patients.
Now, a new method uses AI and its “memory” of tens of thousands of images of donor organs to identify those that offer the best chance of transplant success.
The project is being backed by ministers, NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) and the NIHR Blood and Transplant Research Unit.
The team behind the technology, known as OrQA – Organ Quality Assessment – say it could result in up to 200 more patients receiving kidney transplants and 100 more receiving liver transplants every year in the UK.
Work is ongoing to refine the technology but the team, including experts from the University of Oxford, believe it will deliver results for the NHS in the future.
In comments shared exclusively with the PA news agency, Professor Hassan Ugail, director of the centre for visual computing at the University of Bradford, whose team is designing the image analysis, said: “Currently, when an organ becomes available, it is assessed by a surgical team by sight, which means, occasionally, organs will be deemed not suitable for transplant.
“We are developing a deep machine learning algorithm which will be trained using thousands of images of human organs to assess images of donor organs more effectively than what the human eye can see.
“This will ultimately mean a surgeon could take a photo of the donated organ, upload it to OrQA and get an immediate answer as to how best to use the donated organ.”
A key part of the OrQA assessment will be to look for damage, pre-existing conditions and how well blood has been flushed out of the organ.
Colin Wilson, transplant surgeon at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and co-lead of the project, said: “Up until now, we haven’t had anything to help us as surgeons at the time of organ retrieval.
“This is a really important step for professionals and patients to make sure people can get the right transplant as soon as possible.
“The software we have developed ‘scores’ the quality of the organ and aims to support surgeons to assess if the organ is healthy enough to be transplanted.”
Professor Derek Manas, medical director of NHSBT organ donation and transplantation, said: “This is an exciting development in technological infrastructure that, once validated, will enable surgeons and transplant clinicians to make more informed decisions about organ usage and help to close the gap between those patients waiting for and those receiving lifesaving organs.
“We at NHSBT are extremely committed to making this exciting venture a success.”
Health minister Neil O’Brien said: “Technology has the ability to revolutionise the way we care for people and this cutting-edge technology will improve organ transplant services.
“Developed here in the UK, this pioneering new method could save hundreds of lives and ensure the best use of donated organs.
“I encourage everyone to register their organ donation decision. Share it with your family so your loved ones can follow your wishes and hopefully save others.”