A research project led by an Irish team and funded under the EU’s Horizon Europe programme is set to break new ground in clinically validating the use of AI-driven imaging and real-time decision support in cancer surgery.

The Classica project will be headed up by Irish clinician and specialist in colorectal surgery Ronan Cahill, who is Professor of Surgery at the Mater Misericordia University Hospital and UCD School of Medicine & Medical Science. In addition to Professor Cahill’s research team, a further Irish partner Pintail Ltd. will join the consortium of 11 partners from across 10 countries: Ireland, France, Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, Belgium, US, Austria and Slovenia.

The project aims to clinically validate the use of AI-driven imaging and decision support in real time during cancer surgery. It builds on breakthrough research in the AI analysis of fluorescence and perfusion in cancer tissues carried out by Professor Cahill and colleagues in UCD, RCSI and IBM Research at the Mater Hospital.

In the project, the partners will build up an existing AI solution research prototype into an operating-room-standard surgical tool and validate its performance, reliability, usability, and acceptance in five leading cancer surgery centres across Europe.

Cancer and healthy tissue have radically different local blood perfusion patterns. This perfusion can be captured using near-infrared video after systemic fluorophore (indocyanine green) injection. Analysis of the video can digitally identify regions of cancer by tracking the perfusion over the initial seconds after dye administration by comparing the fluorescence signal in these areas with those in adjacent normal tissue within the same endolaparoscopic field of view.

Application of AI methods (including computer vision and machine learning techniques) has enabled this differential classification to occur in real time so that better, individualised surgical decisions can be taken during an operation.

According to Professor Cahill: “It’s terrific to be now validating across Europe the exciting surgical and technological breakthroughs made by our DTIF consortium (Disruptive Technologies and Innovation Fund, DT2018 0240-A, The Future of Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment) and funded by Enterprise Ireland. The project advances AI integration into surgical operations for better patient outcomes and, by being at the forefront of next generation surgical evolution, defines the development pathway for the field including biomed ethical and legal aspects as well as clinical implementation.”

Professor Cahill has previously received funding from the EU in a rapid response call for COVID-19 in 2020 as part of Horizon 2020. He was a partner in the proposal PORSAV led by Irish SME Palliare Ltd., a project which focuses on the completion and testing of two medical devices for improving the security conditions of healthcare workers in the operating room by preventing gas spread.

The Classica project has received almost €6 million in total with a little over €2 million going to the Irish partners UCD and Pintail Ltd.

Submitted by Kay-Duggan-Walls

If you would like advice about accessing Horizon Europe support or further details, please contact horizonsupport@enterprise-ireland.com or visit www.horizoneurope.ie