The €6 million Horizon Europe project CLASSICA will deliver and clinically validate an AI-based clinical decision support system, which allows rapid identification of the presence and distribution of cancer tumours. The project is led by Ronan Cahill, Professor of Surgery at University College Dublin (UCD) and the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Dublin. Clinical validation of the technology will take place across five leading European cancer centres. CLASSICA builds on breakthrough research by the Irish DTIF Consortium comprising UCD, RCSI and IBM Research over the last three years at the Mater Hospital regarding the use of special dyes and AI to improve outcomes in cancer surgery.
The AI-based technology will assist surgeons in real time during operations by accurately identifying cancerous versus healthy tissue. During the operation, a smart camera captures the colour changes in tissue after the administration of a safe fluorescent dye. Video is processed by the AI, helping the surgeon to define excision extent. This added support,combined with the surgeon’s judgement and expertise, will minimise post-surgery complications and reduce the risk of cancer recurrence in the patient.
Having developed analytics software, smart cameras and surgical tools as well as trials and technology know-how immersed in real world clinical care at the Mater, this new project will move the technology to the next stage of refinement, validation and use, as well as define the development of clinical guidelines related to AI use in surgery.Eleven partners from nine countries are joining forces to clinically validate this exciting AI technology. Alongside the UCD-Mater surgical team, there are four other clinical sites; Amsterdam UMC (University Medical Centres), Netherlands; ZOL Oost-Limburg Hospital, Belgium; University of Turin, Italy; and St John of God Hospital Graz, Austria. The team also includes IRCAD in Strasbourg, Europe’s leading surgical education organisation and the European Association of Endoscopic Surgery (EAES). Legal and ethical expertise is provided by Copenhagen University, Denmark and Pennsylvania State University, USA. Arctur in Slovenia contributes advanced AI and high-performance computing. Dublin-based Pintail Ltd will provide project management and administrative support throughout.
Clinical trials over the next four years will include 500 patients, with the technology initially being used for colorectal surgeries. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer type globally, and the second most common cause of cancer death, leading to almost one million deaths annually. The methodologies and technology being developed have immense potential for use with other cancers in the future.
Reflecting on the pioneering work he and his team have done in recent years, Prof. Ronan Cahill explained the significance of this next phase. “It’s really exciting to continue this work to the next step of defining personalised cancer surgery for better patient outcomes. Alongside the clinical and technological expertise in the project there is a strong focus on biomedical, legal and ethical aspects to ensure true validation of AI use for surgical decision support to define the field more broadly.”
This exciting project kicked off this month with an inaugural meeting of all CLASSICA partners hosted by UCD at the Mater Hospital, Dublin.