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North receives £10 million government investment for AI and digital pathology

13 Nov 2018

A network of northern universities, hospitals and medical technology companies, including the University of Sheffield, has been awarded a £10.1 million investment from UK Research and Innovation to expand a digital pathology and artificial intelligence programme.

Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), announced the investment today (6 November 2018), as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

The national funding from UK Research and Innovation is boosted by an initial investment of £7m from companies involved in the programme and will allow the creation of a digital pathology clinical network and research programme.

The successful partnership bid, which was led by the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospitals, includes a network of nine NHS hospitals, seven universities and 10 industry-leading medical technology companies, called the Northern Pathology Imaging Co-operative (NPIC).

The consortium is set to become a globally-leading centre for applying artificial intelligence (AI) research to cancer diagnosis.

The research team in Sheffield, led by Professors Simon Cross and Angela Cox, will be investigating biomarkers which can be used to predict the response to therapy in breast and bowel cancer. Slides stained for specific protein biomarkers will be digitised and then AI algorithms will be used to analyse these images and provide quantitative data on the expression of the biomarkers. It is hoped that, once validated, these techniques can be used routinely in pathology laboratories to provide oncologists with much more specific information that they can use to select the best treatment for each individual patient.

Professor Simon Cross, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Neuroscience and Co-Investigator in the programme, said: “I was involved in using AI techniques to identify cancer cells in clinical specimens over 20 years ago with my colleague Professor Rob Harrison, but at that time there were technical barriers which couldn’t be overcome.

“It is exciting that the technology has evolved to a point where it is now on the cusp of use in everyday clinical practice.”

Dr Yvette Oade, Chief Medical Officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, added: “This is a really exciting step for patients because computers using AI can be trained to recognise the patterns of disease. Machines will support clinically trained pathologists to diagnose cancer faster, better and at a lower cost.

“We can also explore how to use digital pathology as part of precision medicine to ensure patients receive treatments tailored to their disease. This is a huge opportunity for Yorkshire to lead in this new area and further enhance our position as a hub for medical technology.”

NPIC will put new digital pathology scanners into a network of northern NHS hospitals, including all of the hospitals across West Yorkshire and Harrogate, to gather digital pathology images for training AI systems. This will generate about 760,000 images per year, about 1.2 Petabytes of data.

The project also aims to develop more integrated ways of working across regional clinical pathology services.

Clinicians will then work with industry and academic researchers to make new AI systems capable of analysing digital pathology images, leading to better diagnoses for diseases like cancer.

The work will stimulate AI research locally in academic and business sectors, creating jobs and supporting economic growth.

Professor Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation, said: “Early diagnosis of illness can greatly increase the chances of successful treatment and save lives.

“The centres announced today bring together the teams that will develop AI tools that can analyse medical images varying from x-rays to microscopic sections from tissue biopsies. AI has the potential to revolutionise the speed and accuracy of medical diagnosis.”

A key part of the project is to consider the ethics of data sharing to ensure NPIC partners abide by the highest professional standards when images are utilised for research purposes.

NPIC will engage patients and the public in a programme of work about the use of anonymised images for AI research. It will also inform the development of a ‘national pathology exchange’ – software that allows images to be shared between NHS sites nationally so that patients can benefit from second opinions from anywhere in the UK.

Additional Information

High resolution images available to use with credit here:

For more information please contact press officer Simon Moore at the University of Leeds on 0113 34 38059 or, or Ross Langford from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust on 0113 206 4098, 07917882958 or

NPIC members

The Northern Pathology Imaging Co-operative (NPIC) is led by the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. Its 26 members include the University of Manchester, University of Nottingham, University of Oxford, Heterogenius Limited, Microsoft Limited, Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust, Sectra Limited, Newcastle University, Roche Diagnostics Limited, University of Sheffield, Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust, FFEI Limited, Clinisys Group Limited, Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, University of Liverpool, X-Lab Limited, Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust, The Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, mTuitive UK Limited, Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Futamura Chemical UK Limited and Leica Biosystems Limited.

United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI)

UKRI is a new body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. We aim to maximise the contribution of each of our component parts, working individually and collectively. We work with our many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas.


Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £6 billion, UK Research and Innovation brings together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and a new organisation, Research England.

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.


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