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Hospitals pioneer cancer test trial

A hospital consultant with South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, is pioneering a clinical trial which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to detect cancer earlier – boosting the chances of survival.

By Tom Patterson
Thursday, 31st March 2022, 12:01 am

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Prof Colin Rees with the new equipment.
Prof Colin Rees with the new equipment.

Prof Colin Rees, a consultant gastroenterologist, is leading the trial of GI Genius – a new AI device designed to help medics to identify polyps and bowel abnormalities during colonoscopies.

The COLO-DETECT project has now reached the milestone stage of having recruited 500 patients at the nine hospital trusts taking part.

Prof Rees, said: “Tragically around 16,000 people die from bowel cancer each year, making it the UK’s second biggest cancer killer.

Medical trial participant Michael Watson.

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"Bowel cancer rates are very high in the North East. Men in this region have the highest bowel cancer rates in England with women also in the upper half of incidence rates.

“Sadly, survival rates in the region are also among the lowest in the country and, nationally, lower than in many other European countries.”

He added: “We want to reduce the number of deaths by diagnosing disease in the bowel before it even becomes cancerous and by finding cancer earlier.”

He is working on the project with Prof Linda Sharp, professor of cancer epidemiology at Newcastle University.

Michael Watson, 58, from Sunderland, was invited to take part in the study in November after he started experiencing stomach pains.

The COLO-DETECT technology was used during his colonoscopy at South Tyneside District Hospital, where the Trust has set up its trial base.

He feared he had cancer, having lost a relative to the disease after they had similar symptoms but found he has terminal ileitis (TI), an inflammatory condition

of the small intestine, which is now being treated.

He said: “They asked me if I wanted to take part in this study and I thought, if it is going to benefit me, of course, but I also knew it would benefit others, so I was all for it.

“I was told the result straight away and there were no signs of bowel cancer, which was a relief.”

He added: “I knew they’d also taken some biopsies, so they still had checks to do, but at least I knew then what they’d seen.

“If anyone else was asked to join in the study, I’d say yes, because you also know it’s going to help other people.”

Dr Laura Neilson, consultant gastroenterologist at the Trust was the first to recruit a patient into the trial.

She said “Bowel cancer is entirely treatable and in many cases curable, especially if it’s diagnosed early - which is why studies like COLO-DETECT are so important.

“It is without question, world leading research and we are delighted to be leading this pioneering research.”

GI Genius integrates with existing colonoscopy equipment and analyses images from the camera in real-time – highlighting any areas it thinks need to be inspected more closely.

The £896,000 trial has been funded by Medtronic and aims to recruit more than 2,000 patients over the next 12 months.

The North East hospital Trusts taking part are, South Tyneside and Sunderland, Northumbria, North Tees and Hartlepool, South Tees and Newcastle.