Tim Hargreaves: AI ushers in a healthcare revolution for start-ups

It's widely held that artificial intelligence (AI) will soon come to revolutionise every part of our lives, but nowhere more so than in healthcare '“ and that's an area of innovation where Scotland is firmly leading the way.
Tim Hargreaves is a Chartered (UK) and European Patent Attorney for Marks & Clerk LLPTim Hargreaves is a Chartered (UK) and European Patent Attorney for Marks & Clerk LLP
Tim Hargreaves is a Chartered (UK) and European Patent Attorney for Marks & Clerk LLP

I recently attended the Edinburgh International Science Festival where AI was a hot topic of discussion. There was one recurrent question: how can Scotland further excel in this field and capitalise on its lead?

There is vast AI potential for our country and we are firmly in the driving seat when it comes to delivering world-leading breakthroughs.

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Incredibly, experts believe that, roughly every three years, the amount of medical data on the planet doubles in size. That tangled mess of data – including research, clinical trials and patient records – will only become denser with time. However, AI systems are able to disentangle it, find patterns and make unseen connections to help provide patients with the best standards of care.

In other words, it’s utterly invaluable work, and of a kind that the Scottish Government is increasingly funding. It’s no coincidence then that a £20 million project was unveiled in Edinburgh in 2016 with the aim of harnessing the power of healthcare and government data, in turn improving the lives of patients and the wider population.

The Farr Institute Scotland and the Administrative Data Research Centre Scotland (ADRC-S) are based at Edinburgh BioQuarter, a life sciences research community that is considered to be amongst the best in the world. Through the analysis of complex sets of data, they are providing researchers with datasets that are enabling new medical discoveries, validation of treatments, and improved NHS healthcare delivery.

Researchers will work with the information to develop commercial drugs, diagnostic tests, and life-saving medical technology, at a speed and scale not previously possible.

Last year too, the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics (ECR) – a joint initiative between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh – received nearly £1 million to develop Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (RAI) technologies that could revolutionise the delivery of healthcare and emergency response.

Researchers are looking at how robots can be integrated into the healthcare system, supporting professionals and family carers with physical and cognitive support.

The University of Edinburgh is a name that recurrently comes up in this area – it has one of the longest established centres for AI in the UK.

Indeed, NHS Lothian and Edinburgh Imaging – part of the University of Edinburgh – are currently working closely together to validate quantification features of AI-based medical imaging diagnostic software for the earlier and faster diagnosis of lung cancer. It is also expected to make lung cancer screening more cost-effective and, if successful, would be rolled out nationally.

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Scottish start-ups are increasingly attuned to the possibilities of what AI can represent for their growth ambitions. Indeed, major international cash injections can be used to enlarge teams, run clinical trials, and allow them to move into the EU and US markets.

Naturally, against this exciting backdrop of startling AI innovation, start-ups must also seek to robustly protect their intellectual property in order to stay ahead of the pack. AI is a complex area, so it’s prudent to move quickly to secure any fresh inventions. The good news is that systems that are applied in a technical field are likely to be patentable, provided that their features are novel and inventive.

AI is becoming more and more powerful, and will undoubtedly play an ever-increasing role in healthcare over the coming years, optimising patient outcomes. Likewise, with the right support and advice, the fortunes of Scotland’s AI start-ups have never looked healthier.

Tim Hargreaves is a Chartered (UK) and European Patent Attorney for Marks & Clerk LLP www.marks-clerk.com