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A number of cutting edge artificial intelligence (AI) technologies will be tested and scaled in the NHS, as the first winners of the AI in Health and Care Award, sharing approximately £50m.

The OxNNet toolkit led by Prof Sally Collins in the Nuffield Department of Women's & Reproductive Health, 
will receive a share of £50M funding from the NIHR. This exciting project seeks to develop a fully automated ultrasound tool to screen for fetal growth restriction (FGR) in the first trimester.
Copyright: Shutterstock

The NHS is committed to becoming a world leader in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning and to harness the benefits on offer from the technology that range from faster and more personalised diagnosis to potential efficiencies in screening services. 

Today’s announcement of the AI in Health and Care Award from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) will distribute £140m over three years, and AI tools and products will receive a share of funding totalling over £50m. The funding supports a range of technologies at different stages of development, from concepts to first real-world tests to the scaling of AI products to a number of NHS sites to generate further evidence for potential adoption in the NHS. Each product will undergo robust testing and independent evaluation to ensure they are effective, accurate, safe and value for money.

Sir Simon Stevens, NHS Chief Executive, said: “The NHS is determined to take advantage of the artificial intelligence revolution and ensure we are harnessing the latest and best technologies to improve care and save more lives. The technologies we’re funding today have the potential to transform how we deliver services such as screening tests, cancer treatment and stroke care for thousands of patients right across the country.”

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said: “AI has huge potential for transforming healthcare and freeing up medical professionals’ time - these awards are just the start of an exciting pipeline of new technology that will identify new ways to diagnose, screen and treat illnesses ranging from dementia and sepsis to antibiotic resistant infections and problems in pregnancy.”

One of the cutting edge projects to receive funds is the OxNNet Toolkit which aims to develop a fully automated ultrasound tool to screen for fetal growth restriction (FGR) in the first trimester. Prof. Sally Collins from Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Women’s and Reproductive Health, Principal Investigator on the award said:

Fetal growth restriction is the leading cause of stillbirth which devastates 8 families a day in the UK. This grant will enable us to further develop our OxNNet Toolkit, which aims to predict which babies will not grow well, a condition called fetal growth restriction, as early as 11-13 weeks into the pregnancy.

The OxNNet toolkit uses AI to automatically recognise the placenta in a simple 3D ultrasound scan and measure it. If the placenta is small, or has a poor blood supply, we know that the baby has an increased risk of fetal growth restriction.

Knowing this early in pregnancy means we can monitor the mother more intensively with serial ultrasound scans and deliver the baby early if they are running into trouble, thereby preventing the growth restriction becoming a stillbirth.

The most exciting part of this however, is that several possible treatments have been suggested to prevent growth restriction from happening in the first place. To be effective, any such therapy must be started while the placenta is still developing (usually before 16 weeks’ gestation), this is well before any signs of fetal growth restriction are apparent.

If our OxNNet Toolkit proves to be a reliable early screening test, the holy grail of a treatment to prevent fetal growth restriction from developing becomes a real possibility.”


Watch a video introducing the OxNNet Toolkit here:



Prof Sally Collins (UK Principal Investigator)

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