Artificial intelligence may help spot cancer in image scans

BISMARCK, N.D., Nov. 27, 2019 — Three Sanford Health doctors are working to develop an artificial intelligence solution to help identify cancer in radiology images. Such applications of AI are now mostly limited to spotting breast cancer. 

Brothers John Miller, M.D., and Andrew Miller, M.D., and fellow radiologist Joshua Rampton, M.D., practice in Bismarck, North Dakota. John Miller studied computer science in college. Andrew Miller got his undergraduate degree in business administration. Rampton majored in physics. All three received their medical training at the Mayo Clinic.

“The inventors’ technical backgrounds are unique among physicians and have been tremendously valuable during the development of this technology,” said Braden Bills, a member of the Sanford Health Commercialization team.

Just as smartphone cameras have improved how much detail we see in our personal photos, digital imaging has expanded the amount of information available to radiologists when looking for cancer.

“We’re trying to find cancer in people on CT (computerized tomography) scans,” said John Miller. “There’s thousands of images to go through. When radiologists started doing this, there were dozens and then it got to hundreds and now there are thousands. There’s just more opportunities to make mistakes and miss small lesions.”

Better patient care

Medical professionals strive to get it right but may be more accurate with a little help from technology, Andrew Miller added.

“That’s where the artificial intelligence comes in,” he said. “Any good idea, which I think this is, comes from recognizing a problem. As a radiologist, we’re looking at thousands of images a day. And part of our job is to look for abnormalities that can be different.”

Learn more: Radiology services at Sanford Health

Those differences could indicate cancer. “The goal would be to identify suspicious areas for cancer,” which may improve care through better detection of the disease, Rampton said.

That is the goal — ensuring people cared for at Sanford Health receive the most accurate diagnosis and treatment possible, which can extend or save lives and reduce health care costs.

“This is all about the patient. It helps the patient and their doctor make a more informed decision,” John Miller said.

Culture of innovation

Miller, Miller and Rampton are among more than 50 inventors at Sanford Health and dozens of other staff members who have contributed ideas that have improved patient care, saved time or money or been commercialized.

“It’s great that the culture (at Sanford Health) pushes it, and it’s exciting,” Rampton said. “If you talk to most radiologists, they would say in 20 years computers are going to help us do a lot of what we do now. It’s something radiologists know. But the fact that we can do something about that and be part of it, that’s really unique at Sanford.”

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