Newly developed artificial intelligence (AI) technology can now select donor organs for transplant more accurately than humans can, according to British researchers.
The UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) has committed £1m to an AI project that could increase the number of organs available for transplant.
Currently, surgeons examine donor organs and use their own judgment to assess whether they are of good enough quality to be transplanted into patients.
But the new method uses artificial intelligence and its “memory” of tens of thousands of images of donor organs to identify those most likely to be transplanted.
Ministers are supporting the project, as well as the NHS Blood and Transplantation (NHSBT) and NIHR Blood and Transplantation Research Group.
The team of experts behind the new phenomenon, called OrQA – Organ Quality Assessment – claim it could lead to as many as 200 more patients receiving kidney transplants and 100 more liver transplants in the UK each year.
Work to define the technology is ongoing, but the team, which includes experts from the University of Oxford, believes it will bear fruit for the NHS in the future.
Professor Hassan Ugail, director of the Center for Visual Computing at the University of Bradford, whose team is designing the image analysis, told the PA news agency: “Currently, surgical teams assess organs visually when they are available, which means that, occasionally, The organ will be considered unsuitable for transplant.
“We are developing a deep machine learning algorithm that will be trained using thousands of images of human organs to evaluate images of donor organs more effectively than the human eye can see.
“This ultimately means that surgeons can take a picture of a donated organ, upload it to OrQA, and get instant answers about how best to use the donated organ.”
A key part of the OrQA assessment will be to look for damage, pre-existing conditions, and draining of blood from the organ.
Colin Wilson, a transplant surgeon at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and co-leader of the project, said: “So far, we as surgeons have had no help when it comes to organ removal.
“For professionals and patients, this is a very important step in ensuring that people can get the right transplant as quickly as possible.
“The software we developed ‘scores’ the quality of the organ and is designed to support surgeons in assessing whether the organ is healthy enough for transplant.”
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Professor Derek Manas, Medical Director of Organ Donation and Transplantation at NHSBT, described the development as an “exciting development in the technological infrastructure” that will enable surgeons and transplant clinicians to make more informed decisions about organ use, with Help bridge the gap between waiting patients and those receiving life-saving organs.
Health Secretary Neil O’Brien said: “Technology has the power to revolutionize 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 optimal 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.”