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Space tech to diagnose bowel cancer and monitor pollution hotspots

Nitrogen dioxide over Europe captured by Sentinel 5P

Cancer kills millions of people globally and diagonising malignant and metastasizing tumors is often the first step in treatment. Most of the lives are lost because of delay in detection In the UK, Bowel Cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths. If diagnosed early, the survival rate in the case of bowel cancer is around 90%. With conventional colonoscopy, early detection is a tough task for doctors.

As per a new breakthrough space technology could help improve diagnosis of bowel cancer and save millions of lives through a system developed jointly by Odin Vision and UCL (University College London) researchers.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the NHS (National Health Scheme), the UK Space Agency has earmarked 5 million pounds for the Early diagnosis Real-Time Healthcare System for Cancer (EARTH SCAN) project and another project called Personalized Space Technology Exercise Platform (P-STEP) from the University of Leicester that would monitor air pollution hotspots. The projects have been funded by the UK Space Agency in partnership with NHS England and the European Space Agency (ESA).

EARTH SCAN identifies polyps via a live video of colonoscopy. But using this technology would require ultra-high-speed data connectivity with minimal lag. The system will be using satellite communications along with data compressor software, which is mostly used in space missions. The project intends to create an AI system that would support doctors in the identification of Cancer patients.

With the help of space technology, the system would be good to go in any part of the globe, thus raising the bar when it comes to consistency in patient care.

UK Science Minister Chris Skidmore said of EARTH SCAN,  “It’s incredible that artificial intelligence technology that was first developed decades ago and is being used to examine distant planets, will now help detect some of the hardest to treat cancers at their earliest stages”.


He further added that, “With bowel cancer the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths, this kind of innovation will be crucial in helping the NHS prevent more than 20,000 cancer-related deaths a year by 2033 – a key aim of our modern Industrial Strategy”.

The EARTH SCAN project is an exciting opportunity to use satellite technology to bring AI support to doctors in real time. Real-time support means doctors can make immediate decisions regarding treatment and patients can receive the results of their scan straight away instead of waiting weeks, believes Peter Mountney from Odin Vision, Early diAgnosis Real-Time Healthcare System for CANcer (EARTH SCAN) project.

Professor Tony Young, NHS England’s national clinical director for innovation, said, “The NHS has a long and impressive track record of world class innovation that improves patient care – from hip replacements to vaccines, medical scans to organ transplants and now genomics”

Personalized Space Technology Exercise Platform (P-STEP) is being developed by the University of Leicester

With a £2 million funding, the University of Leicester is developing a new mobile app that takes data from Earth Observation satellites that will help in mapping pollution hotspots in towns and cities. Identification of these hotspots will help patients suffering from Asthma and other respiratory diseases that are caused due to air pollution.

The data would provide AI for personalized exercise routes for patients and pollution warnings would be given within 10 meters.

Professor Andre Ng, University of Leicester, ‘Personalised Space Technology Exercise Platform’ (P-STEP) project, says, “Whilst we know physical activity is good for many patients with long term conditions including heart and lung diseases, clinicians are often anxious about recommending exercise and often unable to prescribe accurate and effective exercise for their patients. We are really pleased to have been given the NHS/UK Space Agency award, which enables us to harness our expertise in Space, Health and Environment sciences here at Leicester”.