News items Ammodo Science Award for AI researchers at Radboud university medical center

5 March 2024

Researchers Jeroen van der Laak, Geert Litjens, and Francesco Ciompi from Radboud university medical center receive the Ammodo Science Award 2024. They constitute the Computational Pathology Group, which develops AI software models to aid pathologists in tumor diagnostics. Now, the researchers aim to take a step further: developing the world's first virtual pathologist, capable of elucidating the reasoning behind an AI model. The award comes with a prize of 1.6 million euros.  

Our healthcare system is under enormous pressure. There is a looming shortage of healthcare providers while people, on average, live longer and need more care. For instance, there is a worldwide shortage of pathologists and medical specialists who examine tissue from patients to make a diagnosis. To reduce pressure on current specialists and guarantee the quality of care for the future, healthcare innovations are urgently needed.

The work of the Computational Pathology Group may provide the answer. Over the past decade, the team has developed several software models based on artificial intelligence (AI) that can help pathologists diagnose diseases such as cancer. By training algorithms with large digital datasets, consisting of images of often thousands of patients, the group has designed innovative AI models. These models can accurately analyze digitized images of diseased tissue and make diagnoses and even predictions based on them.

The group was one of the first in the world to show that AI can match and even exceed the performance of human experts in diagnostic tasks, including assessing the severity of breast and prostate cancer. A follow-up study researched how this affected the daily work of a pathologist. Pathologists performed their tasks without and then with AI modelling. It was found that working together with AI resulted in more consistent and accurate assessments. Remarkably, even a trainee pathologist working in a country with little economic clout suddenly scored as well as a highly specialized pathologist in the Netherlands when aided by AI.  

First virtual pathologists  

Meanwhile, the researchers are ready for their next ambitious step: they want to develop one of the world’s first virtual pathologists. This new AI model, which they call ANTONI, will be able to independently make clinical diagnoses for various tissue types including breast, prostate and colon cancer. What makes ANTONI special is that it will offer a form of ‘explainable AI’, meaning that medical specialists can ask about the reasoning behind the results to support diagnoses. This feature could boost clinicians’ confidence and open the door to broad applications of AI within healthcare. 

This interdisciplinary research group brings together expertise in computer science, pathology, biomedical and software engineering, applied mathematics and computer vision. Together, they are a strong example of team science, with researchers with unique skills effectively working together to achieve something greater than the sum of its parts. Also highly admirable is their commitment to open science. Unlike many commercial AI developers, the group makes all their models, codes and data freely available, allowing other scientists to build on their work.

The Computational Pathology Group focuses on both fundamental questions about artificial intelligence and its clinical application. All their work takes place within hospital walls, and they involve a wide range of stakeholders, ranging from patients to clinicians, in their research. They do this based on the belief that AI is not an end in itself, but rather a means to improve patient care and make diagnostics as effective and efficient as possible. In short, this team’s research not only contributes to long-term scientific progress, but also directly benefits patients and pathologists worldwide.

The Computational Pathology Group

The Computational Pathology Group at Radboud university medical center consists of, among others, Jeroen van der Laak, Geert Litjens, and Francesco Ciompi. Van der Laak is a professor of Computational Pathology and leads several research lines in the field of artificial intelligence, including one focusing on breast cancer diagnostics. Ciompi has various research lines, including one on colorectal polyps, and has previously received a Vidi grant from the NWO. Litjens is a professor of AI for medical image analysis in pathology and radiology. With his research group, he focuses on the development of multimodal AI solutions in healthcare, with particular emphasis on pathology and radiology.

About the Ammodo Science Award for groundbreaking research 

Since 2020, Ammodo has been presenting the Ammodo Science Award for groundbreaking research, honouring internationally recognised, high quality and potentially groundbreaking research carried out in collaboration by a team of outstanding researchers. The Award comprises two cash prizes of €1,600,000 each for the scientific domains Natural Sciences and Biomedical Sciences and two prizes each of €800,000 for the domains Humanities and Social Sciences. Ammodo supports the development of arts, architecture and science by contributing to innovative projects in arts, projects in social and ecological architecture, and cutting-edge scientific research. Ammodo also produces documentaries to increase the visibility of pioneers in their fields. The other winners of 2024 are Past ❤ Play (Leiden University), the Lipidomics Team (University of Groningen), and the Psychological Methods Lab (University of Amsterdam).

This text originates from Ammodo.

Pictured L-R: Jeroen van der Laak, Geert Litjens and Francesco Ciompi. 

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Pauline Dekhuijzen

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