The project was carried out by scientists from the Cork research centre for food and medicine, APC Microbiome.

A professor that has only just recently joined University College Cork (UCC) has led a team of international researchers on a project that led to the development of an AI system for ulcerative colitis management.

Prof Marietta Iacucci’s team created an AI computer-assisted diagnostic tool that speeds up the process of predicting outcomes in patients diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. The tool also minimises errors when it comes to evaluating biopsies in a clinical setting.

“This novel AI system can be of great help to pathologists and clinicians in identifying and distinguishing between inflammation and remission ¬– the primary goal in ulcerative colitis treatment,” said Iacucci.

“We believe (the system) is set to alter how ulcerative colitis clinical assessments and research trials are conducted,” she added, while also pointing out that the tool could help clinics save on expenses. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that has no known cure and causes a lot of pain and ulcers in the digestive tract.

The team reckons the tool can have an impact not only on the treatment of that condition but also on other conditions where tissue is affected. Researchers tested the tool on 535 biopsies drawn from 273 patients spread across 11 international centres. This ensured they had the benefit of a large sample size. Roughly two-thirds to three-quarters of the biopsies were in remission. The AI tool predicted endoscopic inflammation levels at 80pc accuracy when it was used to detect the presence of ulcerative colitis.

Its detection abilities could be better than traditional clinical methods, which are often difficult to train staff to get used to, expensive and inaccurate as different clinicians have different reads based on what they see in the tissue themselves.

The AI tool’s most notable feature is its ability to predict disease flare risk, an area in which it outperformed traditional diagnostic methods.

Iacucci had not been at UCC for long before leading the team to this discovery. She specialises in gastroenterology and conducted the project in association with APC Microbiome, the UCC-based research centre for medicine and food.

Earlier this year, APC Microbiome scientists grew a series of gut viruses in their lab as part of their efforts to find out more about these gastroenterological conditions.

Blathnaid O’Dea

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