How DOD and Google Public Sector partnered using AI to fight cancer

With a goal to help pathologists more accurately diagnose cancer, the Department of Defense and Google Public Sector came together to build an augmented reality microscope.
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Approximately $1.7 billion of the Department of Defense’s annual budget is spent on cancer as part of a broader effort to improve military health care for more than 9 million eligible beneficiaries. As healthcare professionals and researchers continue to look for ways to detect better, diagnose and treat cancer, AI has emerged as a formidable ally.

One groundbreaking development in pathology and cancer detection is the augmented reality microscope (ARM). During a session at Google Cloud Next ’24, experts discussed how the ARM is poised to revolutionize cancer diagnosis. The initiative is a collaboration between the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs (VA), DOD’s Defense Innovation Unit, Google Public Sector and Jenoptik.

The AI-assisted microscope provides not only a view of how AI is increasing the diagnostic accuracy and efficiency of cancer detection but also its ability to operate on edge devices to support medical and other professionals. That allows those professionals to operate locally, independent of internet or cloud connectivity. That’s becoming increasingly critical as the number of experienced healthcare specialists qualified to perform diagnostic evaluations is declining in the U.S.

ARM’s impact also extends beyond individual diagnoses. By digitizing tissue samples and harnessing the power of AI, the microscope eliminates geographical barriers, ensuring that patients everywhere have access to the expertise of top-tier pathologists.

A look at the development process

The genesis of the ARM lies in the recognition of a critical challenge faced by pathologists — the meticulous task of analyzing tissue slides, often numbering in the hundreds, to detect cancerous abnormalities. While traditional microscopes are indispensable, they present inherent limitations in terms of efficiency and accuracy, which are compounded by the sheer volume of data pathologists need to process.

The ARM integrates artificial intelligence (AI) into the diagnostic process. At its core, this device leverages AI algorithms deployed on the edge to analyze digitized tissue samples in real time. This transformative approach enables pathologists to identify potential abnormalities with unprecedented speed and precision, significantly enhancing diagnostic accuracy.

“The job of pathologists is to make sure that what we do is very accurate and that we can identify the disease. We don’t want to make a mistake,” said Dr. Nadeem Zafar, director of pathology and laboratory medicine service at Veterans Affairs Puget Sound.

“This is where the technology comes in, and this is why we are so excited about it.”

The development process of the (ARM) also illustrates the power of collaboration. 

“Here at Google… we don’t just want to incrementally improve things like cancer diagnosis; we want to do it at scale,” said Scott Frohman, head of defense programs

for Google Cloud. “And this project enabled us to think and connect and do something good for humanity.”

Current and future impacts

Central to the microscope’s functionality is its ability to highlight areas of interest detected by AI algorithms, providing pathologists with guidance during the diagnostic process. In addition, combining AI-driven insights with human expertise will empower healthcare professionals to make more informed decisions with greater confidence.

“Why I’m so excited about this technology is that it will bring so many experts to your desktop — while in the workflow, while in the flow of time,” Dr. Zafar said. “This is not something you have to learn. As long as you have the software… it will start giving you the heatmap and help detect cancer. So this is brilliant.”

In addition, this endeavor’s success underscores the pivotal role of public-private partnerships in driving innovation and advancing healthcare. Through concerted efforts and a shared vision, stakeholders across government, industry, and academia have made the ARM a reality, with tangible benefits for patients and healthcare providers alike.

“We know that we can’t solve these kinds of problems alone. So the partnership that we have with the government has been fantastic for bringing the subject matter expertise, the data, and the commitment to solving this problem with us,” said Frohman. “And it helps us to do the mission that we have at Google — making information available and accessible during cancer and making the human condition better every day.”

Thanks to AI and edge computing, the ARM promises to redefine the standard of care in pathology, offering new hope in the relentless pursuit of a cancer-free future.

Learn more about how Google Public Sector can help your organization “Kickstart your generative AI journey.”

This article was produced by Scoop News Group and sponsored by Google Public Sector. Google Public Sector is an underwriter of AI Week.

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