Free AI software helps find COVID-19 in chest X-rays

Dutch companies are using a free AI tool to help hospitals generate heatmaps of COVID-19 seen in X-rays. (Delft Imaging)

Two Dutch companies are providing artificial intelligence (AI) software free of charge to hospitals to help triage COVID-19 cases by highlighting affected lung tissue in chest X-ray images.

The companies see the tool as especially helpful in places where healthcare resources are limited and where X-rays are available, but CT scans are not.

The software tool, called CAD4COVID, builds on an existing tool certified by the Dutch Ministry of Health called CAD4TB that has been used in more than 40 countries with 6 million people to screen for tuberculosis, according to the joint companies involved, Thirona and Delft Imaging.

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Normally, COVID-19 has been detected with a CT scan and a RT-PCR test, but since resources are limited in many areas, X-rays can be a useful tool to provide first-line triage before further testing, the companies said.

Hospitals can register on a Delft-sponsored website to learn more about CAD4COVID and gain access to the tool. The website includes a liability clause and notes that CAD4COVID is not yet certified but has been submitted to the Dutch Ministry of Health. CAD4COVID has been developed to support the COVID-19 crisis and is not intended as a commercial product, according to a company FAQ.

The companies noted that CAD4COVID will be continuously improved and optimized.

CAD4COVID works by generating a score of between 1 to 100 to indicate the extent of COVID-19-related abnormalities found in an X-ray and then displaying the abnormalities through a heatmap and quantifying the percentage of the lung that is affected. 

The FAQ says that the tool processes chest X-ray images both from CR and DR X-ray in DICOM format.

In the first phase, CAD4COVID is available as a cloud-based solution and users will receive a unique account for their facility which provides access to a CAD4COVID viewer. The companies said that they will not use a hospital’s data for product development purposes without further permission.

Guido Geerts, the CEO of both Delft Imaging and Thirona, said that CAD4COVID will be especially useful in areas where the virus is active and care resources are low. “Our breadth of experience in such settings has made us very concerned about the implications that COVID-19 can have on countries where the healthcare infrastructure is already under pressure,” he said in a statement. “Many of the measures implemented across Europe and the U.S. will be difficult to replicate in Africa.”  CAD4COVID is available for free “to have a big impact, quickly,” he added.

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