Microsoft uses AI to diagnose cervical cancer in India

SRL Diagnostics
Source: Microsoft

In India, the rate of female deaths due to cervical cancer is higher than in any other country. This disease kills around 67,000 women in India, which is over 25% of the 260,000 deaths all over the world.

Cytopathologists can reduce the incidence of the disease by early detection and screening process. However, the main problem is that the screening process to detect the disease is quite time-consuming. The main reason is that the current method the cytopathologists use takes 8 hours. Moreover, there are only a few cytopathologists in India.

The main question is that if the latest AI technology could speed up the process of detection? To answer this question, Microsoft collaborated with SRL diagnosis last year, to build an AI Network for Pathology to lower the burden on cytopathologists.

SRL diagnosis gets over 100,000 Pap smear samples each year. 98% of these samples are normal, and only 2% need AI intervention. Dr. Arnab Roy, the Technical Lead for New Initiatives and Knowledge Management at SRL Diagnostics, said in a statement, “We were looking for ways so that cytopathologists could find these samples fast.”

Cervical Cancer

The cytopathologists at SRL Diagnostics looked at scanned versions of Whole Slide Imaging (WSI) slides. They consisted of around 300 to 400 cells, which the cytopathologists utilized as data for Cervical Cancer Image Detection API.

After that, another challenge was subjectivity. “Different cytopathologists look over different elements in a slide, even if the final diagnosis is the same. This is the subjectivity element, which is related to the expert’s experience,” says Dr. Roy.

The Principal Applied Researcher at Microsoft Azure Global Engineering, Manish Gupta, is also working with SRL Diagnostics. He said that the main idea was to form a diagnosis that could identify certain areas, which everyone is looking for.

Cytopathologists from multiple labs explained thousands of images of cervical cancer. In this way, they created notes for each sample image. Microsoft said in a blog post, “We sent the images, where the explanations were discordant, to senior cytopathologists for final verification.”

This week, both Microsoft and SRL Diagnosis announced that they saw results. SRL Diagnostics has started an internal preview to use the cancer image Detection API. The API runs on Microsoft Azure, and it can quickly screen the slide images to detect cervical cancer in its early stages.

The AI model can easily differentiate between normal and abnormal smear slides, which remain under validation for six months. It can also classify the slides based on the seven-subtypes of the cervical cytopathological scale. During the preview period, the AI will use over half a million anonymized digital tile images. After internal validation, the API can be previewed in external cervical cancer diagnostic workflows, like diagnostic centers and hospitals.

“Cytopathologists have to look at fewer areas now on the whole slide and validate positive cases. This leads to efficiency and speeds up the screening process,” said Microsoft. Moreover, Dr. Roy said, “The API can improve the productivity of the cytopathology section by four times. In the future, with the help of AI, cytopathologists will be able to do the job in two hours, which took eight hours earlier.”

This week’s announcement is just one of the many of Microsoft’s ongoing research work in India. The world’s second-most populous country, India, has become a testing ground for popular Western companies to make new products to solve local challenges. A prominent example of this is the Pay-pal backed cash lender Tala, which recently raised $110 million to enter India. 

Last week, Microsoft said that its AI project was improving the driving tests in India. The company has introduced many products in the Indian market in the previous two years. Last year, the tech giant collaborated with Apollo Hospital to form an AI-powered API to predict the heart disease risk in India. The company also collaborated with cricket Legend Anil Kumble last year, to build a device that helps batsmen analyze their batting performance. Thus, Microsoft is changing India with its products and services.

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