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AstraZeneca and Institut Kanser Negara Partner to Revolutionize Lung Health Screening with AI

by Sinead Huang
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AstraZeneca, in collaboration with Malaysia’s National Cancer Institute (Institut Kanser Negara, IKN) on its 10th anniversary, is embarking on a pioneering initiative to revolutionize lung health screening in Malaysia. The project, known as Projek Saringan Awal Paru-Paru (SAPU, approximately translated as “Early Lung Screening Project” in English), introduces cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence (AI) X-ray technology to enable early lung screening at government clinics and hospitals. This partnership positions IKN as the first government institution in Malaysia to implement AI-driven lung screening technology.

Related article: The Emergence of General AI for Medicine: Medical Applications of ChatGPT

Addressing a Critical Health Challenge

Lung cancer is a pressing concern in Malaysia, ranking among the most common cancers in the country, accounting for 19:1 deaths per 100,000 population in the country. Shockingly, 80% of patients receive their lung cancer diagnosis at stage four, when the disease has already spread to other parts of the body. This late-stage diagnosis underscores the urgency of early screening to expedite treatment and improve patient outcomes. 

Projek SAPU’s primary goal is to encourage the adoption of AI X-ray screening for lung abnormalities within government healthcare facilities. By doing so, it aims to not only enhance early screening but also advance research in lung care, bridging the gap in screening accessibility and identifying patients in the early stages of cancer.

AstraZeneca’s Vision for AI-Enhanced Healthcare

AstraZeneca’s involvement in this initiative aligns with its broader commitment to transform healthcare through digitalization and innovative technologies. The project is an extension of the company’s Lung Ambition Alliance programme, initially introduced in 2021 at primary care clinics.

Over the years, AstraZeneca has expanded its AI-powered lung cancer screening, partnering with private tertiary hospitals to facilitate patient referrals and diagnosis using low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scans. To date, nearly 19,000 patients have undergone lung cancer screening, with over 400 high-risk patients referred for further assessment.

The Future of AI in Healthcare

Under Projek SAPU’s third phase, AI technology will be deployed as a pilot study at select government clinics and hospitals nationwide, serving as “sandbox sites” to collect data on the program’s outcomes. This valuable data will enhance understanding of Malaysia’s healthcare landscape and disease demographics. Importantly, the AI technology goes beyond lung cancer screening, with the ability to detect over 30 lung-related diseases or pathologies, including COVID-19, tuberculosis, and lung fibrosis. AstraZeneca and IKN’s collaboration not only transforms lung health screening but also sets the stage for Malaysia to embrace AI technology in healthcare, providing accessible, early screening and ultimately improving the well-being of its population.

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