Federal government announces $30 million investment in AI healthcare projects

The Albanese Government is investing almost $30 million in research into new ways to use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve access to health services.

The announcement of investment into AI for the healthcare sector followed the release of the national framework for AI in government late last week. Commonwealth, state and territory governments agreed on a nationally consistent approach to the safe and ethical use of AI by governments in Darwin.

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler said AI had the potential to revolutionise many different fields if proven to do so safely. “These important research projects will help build the infrastructure that will underpin our use of AI in the healthcare system, improving the lives of Australians everywhere.”

The Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) has awarded 10 grants across Australia’s leading universities for AI projects including better care for Multiple Sclerosis, cardiac health, and skin cancer.

The University of Queensland has been granted nearly $3 million to trial ways in which AI could use the world’s largest skin imaging database to help detect melanoma. Information from the database will be used by AI to enable health professionals to make informed diagnoses.

Professor Monika Janda from UQ’s Centre for Health Services Research said the aim was to inform work towards a national, targeted melanoma screening program for Australia. The project will test a combination of technologies to improve the early detection of potentially fatal skin cancers in regional and rural Australia.

“Our study will look at how 3D total body photography, combined with artificial intelligence to support clinicians, can help improve and speed up skin cancer imaging,” Professor Janda said.

The AI clinical support will allow people in rural and regional Australia to have their skin checked for melanomas, without having to travel to the nearest GP.

“Rates of skin cancer are higher in regional areas, however fewer than 10% of dermatologists practice outside capital cities,” Professor Janda said.

“Delivering services in rural areas is complex, but technology can help us to tackle the obstacles of distance and a shortage of medical specialists. We want to ensure equitable access to skin imaging services for regional Australians and reduce the time between detection and treatment, ultimately saving lives.”  

The research will be conducted at nine regional hospital and healthcare centres across Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, including a 3D total body imaging trial hub established in partnership with Mildura Base Public Hospital. All nine regional hubs will use new technologies to test AI in healthcare and minimally invasive biopsy methods.

Another AI-driven project by the University of Melbourne has been granted nearly $3 million. The ‘Youth-AI’ project will provide a platform for personalised diagnosis and preventive treatment of youth mental health issues.

The grants have been made under the MRFF’s $650 million National Critical Research Infrastructure Initiative. Full details of the projects funded here.


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