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US tech company using AI to prevent cervical cancer in India

US technology behemoth Microsoft is using AI to equip physicians in India with the right tools to fight cervical cancer.

More women die in India from cervical cancer than in any other country in the world. The disease kills around 67,000 women in India every year, which accounts for 25% of the 260,000 deaths worldwide.

What makes those statistics all the more difficult to digest is the fact that effective screening and early detection can prevent this. In India, its existing methodology for testing is unbearably time-consuming.

However, AI may well be the solution to this chronic issue effecting Indian women. SRL Diagnostics is the largest chain to offer diagnostic services in pathology and radiology in India. In 2018, it partnered with Microsoft to co-create an AI network for pathology to ease the burden of cytopathologists and histopathologists.

Cytopathologists at SRL Diagnostics studied digitally scanned versions of Whole Slide Imaging (WSI) slides, each comprising about 300-400 cells, manually and marked their observations, which were used as training data for Cervical Cancer Image Detection API.

A digitally scanned version of a Whole Slide Imaging (WSI) slide, which is used to train the AI model

Then there was the challenge of subjectivity. “Different cytopathologists examine different elements in a smear slide in a unique manner even if the overall diagnosis is the same. This is the subjectivity element in the whole process, which many a time is linked to the experience of the expert,” reveals Dr. Roy.

Manish Gupta, Principal Applied Researcher at Microsoft Azure Global Engineering, who worked closely with the team at SRL Diagnostics, said the idea was to create an AI algorithm that could identify areas that everybody was looking at and “create a consensus on the areas assessed.”

Cytopathologists across multiple labs and locations annotated thousands of tile images of cervical smear. They created discordant and concordant notes on each sample image.
“The images for which annotations were found to be discordant — that is if they were viewed differently by three team members — were sent to senior cytopathologists for final analysis,” Microsoft wrote in a blog post.

This week, the two revealed that their collaboration has started to show results. SRL Diagnostics has started an internal preview to use Cervical Cancer Image Detection API. The Cervical Cancer Image Detection API, which runs on Microsoft’s Azure, can quickly screen liquid-based cytology slide images for detection of cervical cancer in the early stages and return insights to pathologists in labs, the two said.

The AI model can now differentiate between normal and abnormal smear slides with accuracy and is currently under validation in labs for a period of three to six months. It can also classify smear slides based on the seven-subtypes of cervical cytopathological scale, the two wrote in a blog post.

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