Google's artificial intelligence unit DeepMind and University College London Hospitals Foundation Trust (UCLH) have linked under a medical research partnership aiming to develop pioneering technology able to automatically differentiate between cancerous and healthy tissues on patient scans.

It can take clinicians up to four hours to identify and differentiate between cancerous and healthy tissues on CT and MRI scans of head and neck cancer patients, because their tumours are situated in extremely close proximity to healthy structures such as the eyes and nerves.

This process is essential to the delivery of targeted radiotherapy treatment, to give the highest radiation dose possible to the tumour, while preserving healthy, surrounding structures and reducing possible side effects.

Under the project, CT and MRI scans from 700 former hospital radiotherapy patients will be analysed with a view to developing artificial intelligence technology that can assist clinicians in this segmentation process, in the hope of reducing the time it takes to around an hour, without losing accuracy.

Dr Yen-Ching Chang, clinical lead for radiotherapy at UCLH, said the research has the potential to revolutionise the planning of radiotherapy treatment.

"This has the potential to free up clinicians to spend even more time on patient care, education and research, all of which would be to the benefit of our patients and the populations we serve," he noted.

"This real-world application of AI technology is exactly why we set up DeepMind," said co-founder Mustafa Suleyman. "We hope this work could lead to real benefits for cancer patients across the country and for the clinicians who treat them."