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A group of hospitals (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, UZ Brussel, KU Leuven, UZ Leuven, and UZ Antwerpen), together with icometrix and other organizations, have joined forces in a global initiative to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) in the fight against COVID-19. The multinational collaboration resulted in the development of an AI algorithm, icolung, which received CE-marking for clinical use in Europe. The algorithm is the first CE-marked AI solution for CT resulting from a COVID-collaboration and offers fast and objective quantification of lung pathology on chest CT scans in admitted COVID-19 patients.

“The icolung AI tool can provide a clear percentage of affected tissue, which radiologists can’t do. Of course, we still look at the scans and the radiology expertise is very important, but it’s great that this can go hand in hadn’t with an accurate qualitative evaluation by Ai that humans can’t do”, says professor Johan De Mey, head of radiology at UZ Brussels. The first versions of the algorithm have been tested, as De Mey believes that quantitative data is of great importance. “Thanks to the cloud, improvements of the AI algorithm are instantly available to us, which is essential in this rapidly-evolving pandemic.”

Evaluating the type, pattern, and extent of lung pathology on chest CT can help in the assessment, triage, and follow-up of COVID-19 patients. Currently, the health care system worldwide is overwhelmed by the surge of admitted COVID-19 patients, leading to an excessive workload and a shortage of resources and intensive care units (ICU) beds. Triage can help alleviate the increasing burden on the ICU and allocate resources. icolung has the potential of further decreasing workload in clinical practice by providing a fully automated assessment of the total and lobar disease burden.

“We are proud to launch a solution that can be integrated in less than 30 minutes and has a big impact on patients. Collaboration is fundamental, and we are honored to dedicate our resources and AI expertise to this global AI initiative against COVID-19,” says Dirk Smeets, Ph.D., CTO at icometrix.

Professor Suetens, former head of the medical imaging research center in Leuven, was appointed to coordinate this consortium and discussed the importance of coming together to combat COVID-19. “We had a collective feeling that we needed to apply our knowledge and expertise to help fight this pandemic,” he says. “In my whole career, I’ve never seen such a fast, multi-disciplinary collaboration, going from an idea to a solution to help patients in one month. But this is only a start for us, now we need to make sure that we continuously improve the software and that the icolung solution is used in as many hospitals as possible worldwide,” Suetens concludes.

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