A radiomics project at Bellvitge Hospital to place Catalonia at the forefront of innovation in imaging biomarkers

- Facilities

Obtaining imaging biomarkers will help solve unanswered clinical questions about cancer and non-tumour pathology generated by the team at Bellvitge University Hospital (HUB).

This will be possible thanks to a project financed with European funds and promoted by the HUB's Diagnostic Imaging Service, which will allow progress to be made in 44 subprojects led by 20 researchers.

Radiomics is a new paradigm in the field of diagnostic imaging, which moves from a subjective interpretation of images for diagnosis to a quantifiable one based on the analysis of data that cannot be seen by the human eye. By applying algorithms and using artificial intelligence, these imaging biomarkers will be able to reveal the future evolution of the disease.

The answer to the development of a tumour could be hidden in the imperceptible pixels of common imaging tests, such as an MRI or CT scan. This is the contribution of imaging biomarkers: they are based on features often unobservable to the naked eye and are relevant for the cancer precision diagnosis or for determining the future evolution of a tumour.

Precisely, the Radiology and Nuclear Medicine teams of the Diagnostic Imaging Service at the HUB have conceptualised a radiomics project that starts with 44 subprojects led by 20 researchers. They are working on a quantitative approach to diagnostic imaging, which will allow the detection and use of these imaging biomarkers along with other technologies - such as artificial intelligence or deep learning - for clinical practice.

“We have conveyed this project to clinical questions generated by radiology teams, nuclear medicine and medical experts in very specific pathologies. The latter include tumour pathology of different organs and non-tumour pathology, such as pulmonary fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and liver transplantation, among others, for which we believe that imaging biomarkers can provide relevant answers”, states to Dr Nahum Calvo, clinical director of the Diagnostic Imaging Service at the Bellvitge University Hospital. “This information, combined with artificial intelligence, will allow us to make the best clinical decisions now and in the future,” adds the specialist.

Now, thanks to European FEDER funds, the HUB will have technological tools (Olea Sphere SDK and Canon Medical's Automation Platform) so that professionals from the Diagnostic Imaging Service can begin to develop the software and generate algorithms. These imaging biomarkers can be obtained through the bioinformatics analysis of the gathered data from patients treated over the years at the hospital.

These biomarkers are developed under very strict regulation, taking into account clinical, histological and treatment response data, among others. The biomarkers are then integrated with clinical data and correlated with health outcomes.

This will allow for earlier diagnosis of cancer and other pathologies, to know their degree of aggressiveness, and even to optimise the application of new therapeutic treatments, anticipating the side effects, taking into account each patient. All the knowledge generated can be exportable and used by professionals from other centres and hospitals. This is a groundbreaking project within the Catalan health system. “The fact that it integrates a structured work methodology to obtain these biomarkers and a platform to develop software is absolutely singular and unique,” said Dr Calvo, who added, “This project places Catalonia at the forefront of knowledge generation and innovation in imaging biomarkers”.

Towards high diagnostic accuracy in Bellvitge

Bellvitge University Hospital is working to transform the current diagnostic imaging model to one that puts the patient at the centre of healthcare. “We are incorporating the patient experience -that is the sum of all interactions shaping the patient's perceptions all along the care they receive- in diagnostic imaging projects,” explained Dr Calvo.

The main project where this is being applied is the High Precision Diagnostics Centre, which in 2023 will house the first public healthcare PET/MRI in Spain, serving the entire Catalan public system, and which will be installed in the HUB thanks to the philanthropic collaboration of the Daniel Bravo Andreu Private Foundation.