Oxford scientist to lead international transdisciplinary consortium towards delivering NetZero Healthcare

Tuesday 12th Dec 2023, 9.05am

The European Union Horizon Europe (with joint funding from UK Research Innovation) has awarded NetZeroAICT Consortium major funding to develop a novel technology with great potentials to promote climate neutral and sustainable health care.

This International Transdisciplinary Consortium is led by Professor Regent Lee at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Surgical sciences. He is a UK Research Innovation Future Leaders Fellow and Associate Professor of Vascular Surgery. The Oxford team further includes Professor Vicente Grau, Professor of Engineering Science at the Institute of Biomedical Engineering. Their team developed the pioneering technology (CT Digital Contrast) which can make Computerised Tomography (CT) scans safer, faster, more equitable and more sustainable.

The Horizon Europe award funding (total of €6M) will accelerate scientific development, clinical validation and subsequent regulatory approval of CT Digital Contrast. It will harness the comprehensive collective expertise of the 20 partners across academia, healthcare and industry.

Professor Lee said: ‘The combined NetZeroAICT Consortium expertise will enable us to develop and deploy trustworthy ‘green’ AI software as medical device with the ultimate goal to reduce the environmental footprint from CT imaging. European patients will have access to safer, faster, equitable and sustainable healthcare delivery while the healthcare systems strengthen their alignment with the European Green Deal. This is a new era of translational research. In addition to improving patients’ health, our aspiration is to improve planetary health for future generations.’

In addition to manufacturing AI Software as Medical Devices (AISaMD) that can minimise the climate and environmental impact of clinical imaging (which accounts for ~1% of global greenhouse emissions), the Consortium will develop a reference framework for delivering AISaMDs using a ‘green’ and sustainable pipeline by incorporating green computational architectures and comprehensively examine the social/life cycle impacts of implementing CT Digital ContrastTM.

Professor Paul Shearing, ZERO Institute Director, University of Oxford, said: ‘Decarbonising society to achieve Net Zero requires scrutiny of all areas of our lives, including healthcare, where emissions may be ‘hiding in plain sight’. The NetZeroAICT consortium have catalogued the carbon intensity of medical imaging and are proposing exciting solutions to reducing the environmental impact of this critical area of medicine. We are excited to see the progress of the consortium, and to identify opportunities for replicating this proactive approach to decarbonisation across the healthcare sector.’

Professor Sam Fankhauser of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment and Director of Research for Oxford Net Zero, added: ‘There is no silver bullet to achieving net zero – each sector must simply take a long, hard look at itself and start the hard work of cutting emissions. It is inspiring to see the NetZeroAICT Consortium starting this process for CT scans and ultimately more sustainable healthcare and speaks to the commitment to addressing climate change across the University of Oxford.’

Project Coordinator, Anders Nordell from Collective Minds Radiology, further emphasised: ‘There is almost unlimited expertise and data in healthcare. The problem is that it is locked into silos. In order to advance care, more collaboration is needed. The NetZeroAICT project will break these barriers and set a new standard with the ‘cleanest’ data for AI research in CT imaging. We have developed privacy preserving technology and international legal frameworks which enables international health data sharing, highly secure and compliant with privacy regulations, such as GDPR.’

A key ambition for the Consortium is to establish it trustworthiness among the stakeholders involved in all sectors. There will be a strong focus on impactful patient public involvement and engagement to refine the Consortium activities.