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Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) is one of the NHS trusts that will benefit from a £13.5m national funding boost to further enhance cellular pathology services and provide faster and more accurate diagnosis of deadly diseases such as cancer.

The PathLAKE (Pathology Image Data Lake for Analytics Knowledge and Education) digital pathology consortium, led by University Hospital in Coventry and including OUH, is one of three initiatives developing artificial intelligence (AI) to diagnose disease to receive a total of £50m in government funding.

Through the digitisation of NHS laboratories and the creation of a computational pathology hub, the PathLAKE consortium aims to develop the use of AI innovation in cellular pathology in the UK and create the world’s largest depository of anonymous annotated digital whole slide images. 

OUH was one of the original three founding partners in England of PathLAKE, awarded by Innovate UK and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) in 2018. The programme has allowed the Trust to become a leading centre in the adoption of digital pathology, reaching the key milestone of being one of the first NHS Trusts in the UK to scan 100% of its cellular pathology surgical histology workload.

The additional £13.5m in ‘PathLAKE Plus’ funding was awarded as part of the government’s aim to upscale AI Centres of Excellence. This will fund or complete the full digitisation of at least 13 NHS Trusts in England, creating key infrastructure on which to build fully digital pathology networks. 

A proportion of that funding will go to the South 4 Pathology Partner Trusts, which includes OUH, Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, Great Western Hospital, Swindon and Milton Keynes University Hospital

Professor Clare Verrill, Associate Professor at the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences and Honorary Consultant in histopathology at OUH, is leading the Oxford PathLAKE team. She said: “This infrastructure will enable testing and deployment of AI in pathology at scale in the NHS. Ultimately, this will mean patients will get earlier and more accurate diagnoses, and more personalised treatment.

“The funding that we and our regional partners have received will enable us to move ahead with full digitisation of our network in this programme. This will unlock the many benefits of digitisation of pathology, such as better access to second opinions and case sharing across the network. 

“We are pleased to be working with our consortium partner trusts, led by University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire on this innovative transformation of NHS cellular pathology services,” she added. 

Evelyn Waddell, Patient and Public Involvement member of the PathLAKE project, said: "What is significant about PathLAKE is that it uses AI to reflect the changing landscape in pathology to revolutionise diagnostics which will work to improve patient outcomes in the future.

“This will give patients a faster and more accurate diagnosis at a time when it's needed and this can only be a positive for patients."

The funding for ‘PathLAKE Plus’ forms part of a Government initiative to invest an extra £50 million in technology centres and deliver digital upgrades to pathology and imaging services across an additional 38 NHS trusts.

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