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Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge becomes first NHS hospital to use AI-enhanced superhot needle treatment for cancer patients

Addenbrooke's has become the first NHS hospital to use an AI-enhanced superhot needle treatment that can pinpoint and destroy life-threatening tumours in one go - including hard-to-reach cancers.

The highly-targeted thermal ablation treatment can treat multiple small tumours and means there is a reduced risk of affecting surrounding healthy tissue.

Dr Nadeem Shaida. Picture: Mel Yeneralski / Media Studio
Dr Nadeem Shaida. Picture: Mel Yeneralski / Media Studio

Artificial intelligence is being used to improve the process, which involves using images from CT scans to ‘segment’ - meaning map - the target area, guiding the clinician on where to use the needles during the procedure.

Under the standard procedure, the accuracy of the mapping process is affected by gases and blood in the treated area, which can mean those tumours that are harder to find tumours may only be partially treated and can recur, something that often cannot be detected until post-treatment scans. This means patients may need to go through the process again.

However, using AI to train computers to do the mapping makes the treatment quicker, less invasive and more accurate.

And it means the treatment can be carried out in a CT-suite rather than in an operating theatre. That means more scans can be taken during the treatment, providing close to real-time monitoring to reduce the potential need for further treatment.

The Cambridge hospital’s charity, Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust (ACT) paid for the £250,000 thermal ablation machine following a two-year pilot involving 50 patients with liver cancer.

Dr Nadeem Shaida, Addenbrooke's consultant interventional radiologist, said the hospital has been carrying out tumour ablations, mainly using ultrasound guidance, since 2005.

“What we found was the number of patients we did has grown year on year, just because people realise that ablation is a really effective treatment that is minimally invasive and you can do it on sicker patients,” he said.

But the CAS-One IR System has improved the treatment further.

“Combining the precision of AI and thermal ablation means hard-to-reach or very small tumours can be more easily and effectively treated without the need for repeat treatments. This means we can treat more patients and save and improve more lives,” said Dr Shaida.

“What this enables us to do is to identify the tumour accurately, navigate to it using the aiming device, putting the ablation needle or probe into it, and then crucially you can check where you are and check that you’re happy with where the needle has gone. And finally, once you’ve done the ablation, even more crucially, you can validate what you’ve done and that you’re happy you’ve burnt an adequate amount of tissue.

“And there’s been several cases where having done that, I’ve then made a decision based on that technology to go back and re-ablate the tumour as a result.”

He said many patients could be treated using the technique as day patients, or require just an overnight stay.

“It enables us to deliver effective, potentially curative treatment for patients with liver cancer who otherwise we would not have been able to treat with curative intent.

“We are really grateful to ACT for making us the first NHS hospital to be able to offer this AI-enhanced treatment.”

Fewer than half of those treated during the pilot needed further treatment and the hospital is now looking at how the technique can be expanded to kidney and potentially lung or bone cancer patients.

And the initial cost of purchasing the system is expected to be offset by the savings in follow-up treatment costs.

“Patients diagnosed with cancer deserve access to powerful, life-saving treatments. Generous donations from our supporters help us to make such treatments possible, making Addenbrooke's even better,” said Shelly Thake, CEO of ACT.

Meanwhile, construction of the new Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital is due to begin next year. It will be the first hospital delivered under the government’s New Hospital Programme.

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