Nova Scotia hospital will be the first in Canada to screen for colon cancer with an AI machine

A Nova Scotia hospital will be the first in Canada to use artificial intelligence-powered equipment that can detect colorectal cancer faster, saving lives.

Dartmouth General Hospital expects a GI Genius smart endoscopy device to arrive in early April, just months after the technology was approved for use in Canada.

It’s a system that scans images taken during a colonoscopy and detects any precancerous lesions, called polyps, that might otherwise go unnoticed.

“It’s innovative. I hope it saves many lives in Nova Scotia. And we’re really excited to bring it to our hospital,” said Dr. Natalie Cheng, medical site manager for Dartmouth General.

Dr. Natalie Cheng is Medical Site Manager at Dartmouth General Hospital. (Radio Canada)

Cheng said early data from the United States suggests the technology used by the GI Genius can detect 14% more polyps than a regular colonoscopy, in which a doctor assesses images with the naked eye.

The system’s artificial intelligence learns patterns associated with polyps, and as it finds more, its detection rate improves, Cheng said.

Given the high rate of colon cancer in Nova Scotia, Cheng said the technology is especially important. She said around 800 cases were diagnosed in the province last year and the disease was the second leading cause of cancer death.

If the polyps aren’t caught in time, they can spread to the point where they can’t be cured, Cheng said. She said early prevention is actually simple because polyps can be removed at the same time they are found.

Colon cancer is also not something people might notice in the early stages, Cheng added, because the symptoms can be “really subtle”. So anything that can help improve detection is crucial.

“It affects such a large part of our population that I really think it could have a positive impact in a preventive way,” she said.

The hospital already serves people across the province with a room dedicated to colon cancer screening, as well as two other endoscopy rooms.

The GI Genius is visible in this photo. Dartmouth General Hospital is the first in Canada to order the device. (Medtronic)

The new technology will be tested in Dartmouth to see if it matches the promising results across the border, Cheng said, and she hopes it can be rolled out to other parts of the province.

“We are thrilled to have this here at Dartmouth first,” said Steven Harding, CEO of the Dartmouth General Hospital Foundation.

Harding said the $100,000 GI Genius was funded in part by the John and Judy Bragg Innovation Fund and the annual Get Up There! (GUT) event that supports the hospital foundation.

The GUT event will be held in Halifax on April 1, and Harding said any funds raised beyond what is needed for the GI Genius could be directed to a second device if the pilot goes well.

The machine’s distributor, Medtronic, said in a press release that it received a license from Health Canada for the GI Genius in November 2021.