MASTERCLASSING

X-ray app to ease burden on lung specialists and save lives

Gabby Fernie

A Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) team are developing an app that will work with existing X-ray technology to identify a host of lung diseases in their early stages, such as cancer, tuberculosis and pneumonia.

The researchers say, globally, around 4m people die prematurely from chronic respiratory disease. Figures are especially high in low and middle-income countries, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers are concerned this has put an enormous pressure on skilled medical practitioners in these countries, who are generally located away from rural areas. 

The GCU team is seeking to create an app that allows X-ray images to be uploaded and analysed using state-of-the-art trained artificial intelligence models for the presence of different lung diseases. The result, based on the diagnosis, will be available for immediate download, meaning only urgent cases will be referred to a major hospital. 

The prototype app will be trialled in Pakistan, where lung-related diseases accounted for 4.48 per cent of deaths in 2018.

"Our app will provide a timely, accessible and low-cost solution that, with wider deployment, can take significant pressure off major hospitals and medical practitioners by only referring the cases requiring a hospital visit. X-ray facilities are easy to set up and are widely available in rural areas of Pakistan," said lead researcher of the team, Dr Sajid Nazir.

"However, the radiologists with expert knowledge to interpret and diagnose these images are only available in main hospitals, which are generally away from rural areas. The need to travel to the main hospitals to seek expert opinion on readily available imaging in local rural areas can be avoided through providing this online diagnosis facility."

A prototype of the app is expected by July with full results to be published by the end of this year.