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Using AI to detect stomach cancer

An Addenbrooke’s consultant who uses advanced techniques to detect cancer earlier, and prevent life-changing surgery later, has won a grant to boost his work.

Massi di Pietro in lab
Dr Massimiliano di Pietro

Consultant gastroenterologist, Dr Massimiliano di Pietro, is to receive almost £365,000 to further explore the use of artificial intelligence and video to identify gastric cancer at an earlier stage.

The award was announced by Cancer Research UK and is part of a £6m windfall to be shared over the next few years among East of England doctors and scientists battling to improve diagnosis, research, and services relating to cancers of the stomach, breast, lungs and blood.

Research and innovation in cancer prevention, earlier detection and precision treatment underpins the vision of Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital.

What is Gastric cancer?

Gastric cancer – better known as stomach cancer - is the 17th most common cancer in the UK, but only about 15 per cent of patients presenting with symptoms survive at five years, highlighting the importance of early diagnosis.

About one to three per cent of stomach cancers occur in the context of hereditary diffuse gastric cancer syndrome, known as HDGC syndrome, a condition caused by a faulty gene inherited from a parent.

The disorder causes signet ring cell carcinoma, which forms in the lining of the stomach and is named after the shape of cells when viewed under a microscope. Due to its rarity, few doctors are experienced at diagnosing it at early stages during endoscopic examination.

"By harnessing the potential of artificial intelligence and developing new AI models, we aim to improve the examinations by endoscopists and identify signet ring cell carcinoma in its early stages."

Dr di Pietro, Consultant gastroenterologist
A white man smiling wearing a grey suit

Dr di Pietro, who is also a clinician scientist at the Early Cancer Institute, University of Cambridge, said: “Our goal is not just about technological advancement but a reimagining of early cancer detection. In the future more doctors could offer very accurate endoscopic examinations to allow detection not only in people with genetic predisposition to stomach cancer, but to everyone undergoing diagnostic endoscopy.

“The backing from Cancer Research UK enables us to explore new horizons in the early diagnosis of rare cancers, marking a significant stride in the battle against gastric cancer. This initiative promises a beacon of hope, ensuring that future generations are equipped to confront this challenge head-on.”

Another Cambridge recipient of a grant – this time £57,000 to help in the fight against breast cancer – is Dr Stephanie Archer, from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge.

Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital will bring together researchers and clinicians from Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the University of Cambridge, and Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, under one roof in a new 'world-class' hospital.

Architect image of Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital

Plans to build our hospital comes at a time when around 37,400 people each year are diagnosed with cancer in the East of England.

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