Artificial intelligence identifies prostate cancer with near-perfect accuracy

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Credit: Ibex Medical Analytics

PITTSBURGH, July 27, 2020 – A study published today in The Lancet Digital Health by UPMC and University of Pittsburgh researchers demonstrates the highest accuracy to date in recognizing and characterizing prostate cancer using an artificial intelligence (AI) program.

“Humans are good at recognizing anomalies, but they have their own biases or past experience,” said senior author Rajiv Dhir, M.D., M.B.A., chief pathologist and vice chair of pathology at UPMC Shadyside and professor of biomedical informatics at Pitt. “Machines are detached from the whole story. There’s definitely an element of standardizing care.”

To train the AI to recognize prostate cancer, Dhir and his colleagues provided images from more than a million parts of stained tissue slides taken from patient biopsies. Each image was labeled by expert pathologists to teach the AI how to discriminate between healthy and abnormal tissue. The algorithm was then tested on a separate set of 1,600 slides taken from 100 consecutive patients seen at UPMC for suspected prostate cancer.

During testing, the AI demonstrated 98% sensitivity and 97% specificity at detecting prostate cancer — significantly higher than previously reported for algorithms working from tissue slides.

Also, this is the first algorithm to extend beyond cancer detection, reporting high performance for tumor grading, sizing and invasion of the surrounding nerves. These all are clinically important features required as part of the pathology report.

AI also flagged six slides that were not noted by the expert pathologists.

But Dhir explained that this doesn’t necessarily mean that the machine is superior to humans. For example, in the course of evaluating these cases, the pathologist could have simply seen enough evidence of malignancy elsewhere in that patient’s samples to recommend treatment. For less experienced pathologists, though, the algorithm could act as a failsafe to catch cases that might otherwise be missed.

“Algorithms like this are especially useful in lesions that are atypical,” Dhir said. “A nonspecialized person may not be able to make the correct assessment. That’s a major advantage of this kind of system.”

While these results are promising, Dhir cautions that new algorithms will have to be trained to detect different types of cancer. The pathology markers aren’t universal across all tissue types. But he didn’t see why that couldn’t be done to adapt this technology to work with breast cancer, for example.

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Additional authors on the study include Liron Pantanowitz, M.B.B.Ch., of the University of Michigan; Gabriela Quiroga-Garza, M.D., of UPMC; Lilach Bien, Ronen Heled, Daphna Laifenfeld, Ph.D., Chaim Linhart, Judith Sandbank, M.D., Manuela Vecsler, of Ibex Medical Analytics; Anat Albrecht-Shach, M.D., of Shamir Medical Center; Varda Shalev, M.D., M.P.A., of Maccabbi Healthcare Services; and Pamela Michelow, M.S., and Scott Hazelhurst, Ph.D., of the University of the Witwatersrand.

Funding for this study was provided by Ibex, which also created this commercially available algorithm. Pantanowitz, Shalev and Albrecht-Shach report fees paid by Ibex, and Pantanowitz and Shalev serve on the medical advisory board. Bien and Linhart are authors on pending patents US 62/743,559 and US 62/981,925. Ibex had no influence over the design of the study or the interpretation of the results.

To read this release online or share it, visit https://www.upmc.com/media/news/072720-dhir-prostate-ai-lancet [when embargo lifts].

About UPMC

A $21 billion health care provider and insurer, Pittsburgh-based UPMC is inventing new models of patient-centered, cost-effective, accountable care. The largest nongovernmental employer in Pennsylvania, UPMC integrates more than 90,000 employees, 40 hospitals, 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient sites, and a 3.8 million-member Insurance Services Division, the largest medical insurer in western Pennsylvania. In the most recent fiscal year, UPMC contributed $1.4 billion in benefits to its communities, including more care to the region’s most vulnerable citizens than any other health care institution, and paid more than $500 million in federal, state and local taxes. Working in close collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, UPMC shares its clinical, managerial and technological skills worldwide through its innovation and commercialization arm, UPMC Enterprises, and through UPMC International. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside on its annual Honor Roll of America’s Best Hospitals and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. For more information, go to UPMC.com.

About the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

As one of the nation’s leading academic centers for biomedical research, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine integrates advanced technology with basic science across a broad range of disciplines in a continuous quest to harness the power of new knowledge and improve the human condition. Driven mainly by the School of Medicine and its affiliates, Pitt has ranked among the top 10 recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1998. In rankings recently released by the National Science Foundation, Pitt ranked fifth among all American universities in total federal science and engineering research and development support.

Likewise, the School of Medicine is equally committed to advancing the quality and strength of its medical and graduate education programs, for which it is recognized as an innovative leader, and to training highly skilled, compassionate clinicians and creative scientists well-equipped to engage in world-class research. The School of Medicine is the academic partner of UPMC, which has collaborated with the University to raise the standard of medical excellence in Pittsburgh and to position health care as a driving force behind the region’s economy. For more information about the School of Medicine, see http://www.medschool.pitt.edu.

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