Oral can­cer can soon be de­tected via app

AI-en­abled pro­gramme will help those in ru­ral ar­eas with lim­ited ac­cess to spe­cial­ists

The Star Malaysia - - Nation -

AI-en­abled pro­gramme will help those in ru­ral ar­eas with lim­ited ac­cess to spe­cial­ists.

SUBANG JAY A: An ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence-en­abled hand phone a pp for early de­tec­tion of oral can­cer is ex­pected to ben­e­fit those in ru­ral ar­eas with lim­ited ac­cess to spe­cial­ists.

It is cur­rently be­ing de­vel­oped by Univer­siti Malaya (UM) and Can­cer Re­search Malaysia in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Prof Sarah Bar­man of Bri­tain’s Kingston Univer­sity.

This is be­ing car­ried out on a £146,920 (RM797,768) re­search grant from the United King­dom Med­i­cal Re­search Coun­cil.

Can­cer Re­search Malaysia head and neck can­cer re­search head Prof Dr Cheong Sok Ching said al­though Malaysia was for­tu­nate to have univer­sal health coverage, can­cer di­ag­nos­tic ser­vices was still lim­ited in ru­ral set­tings.

“So, those need­ing health­care there have to com­mute to big­ger cities in the west coast of Penin­su­lar Malaysia or to Kuch­ing and Kota Kin­a­balu,” he said.

The trav­el­ling, he added, of­ten de­terred peo­ple from seek­ing treat­ment.

Oral can­cer is among the top five most com­mon can­cers in Asia.

“Trag­i­cally, the ma­jor­ity of can­cer pa­tients seek treat­ment when their dis­ease has reached an ad­vanced stage,” said Prof Cheong, who is also one of the lead in­ves­ti­ga­tors of the study.

“This chal­lenge of ac­cess­ing early de­tec­tion in ru­ral set­tings is com­mon in low- and mid­dle-in­come coun­tries and mo­bile apps pow­ered by AI may be the best an­swer,” he said.

While Can­cer Re­search Malaysia has al­ready de­vel­oped an app that can cap­ture im­ages of oral cav­ity, it is still ex­pen­sive and time-con­sum­ing as it re­lies on trained oral medicine spe­cial­ists to in­ter­pret the data.

The col­lab­o­ra­tion for AI so­lu­tions will en­able the rapid read­ing of mo­bile phone im­ages.

The project, said Prof Cheong, would build on ex­ist­ing part­ner­ships with oral spe­cial­ists in Malaysia, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Prof Bar­man said the chal­lenge of de­vel­op­ing deep learn­ing al­go­rithms and ap­ply­ing them to a range of im­ages taken on a mo­bile phone was ex­cit­ing.

“We are look­ing for­ward to work­ing with our col­leagues at UM and Can­cer Re­search Malaysia on this project, which may have a global health im­pact,” she said.

Bri­tish High Com­mis­sioner to Malaysia Vicki Tread­ell said such an app would not only make oral can­cer de­tec­tion more ac­ces­si­ble for peo­ple in the ru­ral ar­eas but with the con­tin­u­ous growth in hand­phone pen­e­tra­tion, the tech­nol­ogy could be ap­plied more widely to ad­dress other global health is­sues.

“Malaysia has one of the high­est pen­e­tra­tion of mo­bile phones, with an aver­age of 1.8 phones for every ci­ti­zen and this num­ber could grow fur­ther in the next few years,” she pointed out.

With the cost of mo­bile data con­tin­u­ing to drop, this could also im­prove ac­cess to smart­phones, added Tread­ell.

“This is go­ing to be a very im­pact­ful health­care project with the in­no­va­tion and in­sights of AI,” she said.

UM Fac­ulty Of Com­puter Sci­ence and In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy Depart­ment of Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence As­soc Prof Dr Chan Chee Seng said its team could not wait to start on the new chal­lenge.

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