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Skin Cancer Detection: UQ’s AI Initiative in Regional Australia

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A University of Queensland-led initiative aims to enhance early detection of potentially fatal skin cancers in regional and rural Australia by testing a combination of advanced technologies. This project has secured AU$3 million in funding from the Medical Research Future Fund, and the Queensland Digital Health Centre (QDHeC) at UQ will spearhead the evaluation of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare.

The project, headed by Professor Monika Janda from UQ’s Centre for Health Services Research, aims to contribute to the development of a national, targeted melanoma screening programme for Australia. Professor Janda highlighted the disparity in skin cancer rates between regional areas and urban centres, noting that fewer than 10% of dermatologists practice outside major cities. The project seeks to address this imbalance by ensuring equitable access to skin imaging services for regional Australians, thereby reducing the time between detection and treatment and ultimately saving lives.

The study will explore the efficacy of 3D total body photography combined with AI to support clinicians in improving and expediting skin cancer imaging. Additionally, the project will focus on upskilling regional healthcare staff to better utilise these technologies. The research will be conducted across nine regional hospital and healthcare centres in Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria, including a 3D total body imaging trial hub established in partnership with Mildura Base Public Hospital.

These regional hubs will employ new technologies to test AI in healthcare, alongside minimally invasive biopsy methods. Professor Janda emphasised that feedback from consumers in regional communities has been crucial in shaping the project’s direction. She pointed out that geographical isolation and limited access to healthcare facilities exacerbate the challenges faced by those living in regional Australia. However, she believes that technology can help overcome the obstacles of distance and a shortage of medical specialists, thereby delivering critical services more effectively in rural areas.

The project is part of the ACRF Australian Centre of Excellence in Melanoma Imaging and Diagnosis, which includes researchers from UQ, Monash University, and the University of Sydney. It aims to improve research and clinical trial opportunities for patients in regional areas by leveraging advanced imaging and AI technologies.

In a related effort, UQ is also studying the application of AI across the healthcare sector through the NASCENT (National Infrastructure for real-time clinical AI trials) project at QDHeC, led by Professor Clair Sullivan. This project aims to establish national standards for AI evaluations and clinical assessments. Professor Sullivan stated that the project would focus on developing infrastructure within the healthcare system to enable clinical trials and workforce development in using AI technologies. The ultimate goal is to ensure the safe, effective, and equitable introduction of clinical AI, which can transform care and improve patient outcomes by utilising electronic medical record data.

NASCENT will involve collaboration among digital health experts, data scientists, software engineers, AI researchers, clinical informaticians, and specialists in sepsis and acute deterioration, alongside consumers. The programme is a partnership between UQ, the University of New South Wales, and various industry partners. These two UQ-led projects are among ten initiatives supported by the MRFF to harness the power of AI in the healthcare system, aiming to achieve better health outcomes, improved patient and clinician experiences, and lower costs.

These initiatives underscore the University of Queensland’s commitment to leveraging cutting-edge technology to bridge healthcare gaps in regional and rural Australia. By integrating AI and advanced imaging techniques, these projects aim to ensure early detection and timely treatment of skin cancers, ultimately improving patient outcomes and saving lives. The collaborative efforts across universities and industry partners highlight a comprehensive approach to transforming healthcare delivery, setting a precedent for future technological advancements in medical research and clinical practice.


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