Icobrain MS, an AI tool for assessing MRI scans, being tested in UK

AssistMS study to evaluate technology's accuracy and utility in patient care

Lindsey Shapiro, PhD avatar

by Lindsey Shapiro, PhD |

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A person is being prepared to undergo an MRI imaging scan.

An upcoming study will investigate how well icobrain MS, an artificial intelligence (AI)-based technology, can interpret MRI data from people with multiple sclerosis (MS) and how its use might influence patient care.

The project, called AssistMS and led by Icometrix — the technology’s developer — and Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), is supported by an AI Award in Health and Care from the U.K.’s National Institute for Care and Health Research (NIHR).

Called “Artificial intelligence-assisted magnetic resonance imaging for quality, efficiency and equity in the NHS care of multiple sclerosis (AssistMS),” the project ultimately aims to improve MS care, according to Icometrix.

“If successful, AssistMS will have a significant impact on [MS patient’s] quality of life as well as equity and efficiency of MS care across the UK,” Klaus Schmierer, PhD, a professor of neurology at QMUL and a study lead investigator, said in an Icometrix press release.

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An MRI brain scan helps in judging MS progression, therapy response

MS patients routinely undergo MRI scans of the brain and spinal cord to monitor disease activity and response to disease-modifying treatments. These sensitive exams can detect subtle changes, even before mirroring symptoms are evident in patients.

Interpreting MRI images and determining differences between current and earlier scans, however, can be both time-consuming and tiring for radiologists, risking human error.

That risk is also rising, as “imaging departments are under increased pressure to provide timely imaging and scan reports,” said Ashok Adams, a consultant neuroradiologist at Barts Health Trust and study collaborator.

Icobrain MS, an AI or computer-based algorithm software, is designed to detect and highlight changes on brain MRIs, and provide a summary of its findings for clinicians.

The algorithm can detect brain lesion distribution and brain volume, as well as how they’ve changed over time, Icometrix reports.

“What this means … is that by using AI to analyse brain scans, neurologists will be able to get a much more accurate idea of how each patient’s disease course is progressing and, in turn, to recommend the best possible treatment for that person,” said Rachel Horne, an MS patient and the patient and public involvement lead for AssistMS.

AssistMS will evaluate how accurately and consistently icobrain MS detects disease activity in brain MRI images from about 1,300 MS patients in the U.K. Participating neuroradiologists and radiologists will make MRI assessments with or without the use of the technology, and assessments will be compared.

AssistMS also aims to understand how the technology influences clinical care decisions, as well as its potential economic value.

The project is expected to begin in the coming months and run for three years.

An innovation briefing on the icobrain system, issued by the U.K.’s National Institute for Health and Care Evidence in 2022, noted the technology showed promise as a clinical tool, but more evidence was needed to confirm its benefits.

Other project collaborators are the University of Nottingham, Barts Health Trust, and Nottingham University Hospital Trust. Support is being given by East Midlands Imaging Network, InHealth Group, and the MS Society of Great Britain & Northern Ireland.

“We are extremely grateful and excited,” said Wim Van Hecke, PhD, CEO of Icometrix.

The AssistMS project is “pushing the boundaries of healthcare,” Van Hecke added. “Our joint efforts will undoubtedly transform care and improve outcomes for many [people with MS] for the better across Europe and beyond.”