Staff at Zhongnang Hospital, China, are using AI technology to help combat the Covid-19 (novel coronavirus) outbreak. The experiment aims to screen patients for visual clues associated with the virus.
Professor Haibu Xu and the staff at the radiology department of the hospital, located in Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic, are hopeful the trials will hasten diagnostic processes.
Haibu Xu told tech magazine, Wired, that the software could identify the signs of lung disease associated with the Covid-19 virus. Xu’s department was over-burdened at the beginning of the outbreak. Speeding up the initial process of symptomatic diagnoses helped his staff apportion resources efficiently.
The software was created by Infervision, a start-up from Beijing, with backing from Sequoia Capital. Its Covid-19 tool is in use at 34 hospitals, analysing over 32 000 individual cases. Companies like Infervision have been able to do this thanks to policies implemented by the government encouraging research and development into artificial intelligence. The software, which is being trialled in Europe and the US, was designed to detect potentially dangerous lung abnormalities.
At the start of the crisis in January, the company started developing a Covid-19 detector after noticing that hospitals were using its original lung reading software. The team at Infervision began repurposing existing pneumonia detection software into a usable Covid-19 equivalent. The detection program used over 2 000 images of Covid-19 patients from Tongji Hospital, Wuhan. The images of an infected subject’s scan show a shadowy area called ground-glass opacity, which is a tell-tale sign of infection.
Infervision CEO Kuan Chen has said the technology will need approval from the Chinese National Medical Product Administration, but acting sooner rather than later is essential.
Hyungjin-Kim, a member at Seoul University, published a paper reviewing lung scans associated with the Covid-19 virus. The paper found that AI software, like the software being used, will help with the volume of patients by easing the amount of work required of the state’s radiologists.
China’s National Commission, which recently released an official guideline for Covid-19, recognised CT lung scans as a tool for early diagnosis.
Infervision’s work with AI is one of over 230 research or experimentation projects related to the Covid-19 virus. The increasing use of AI in medicine is positioning China as a global tech leader. Google CEO Eric Schmidt believes China will dominate the field of AI by 2030.