Where Ideas Grow

i3S joins European project to prevent gastric cancer

The European project “AIDA”, which has two Portuguese partner groups from the Institute of Research and Innovation in Health at the University of Porto (i3S) and IPO-Porto, was recently funded with more than seven million euros by the Horizon Europe Program from the European Commission. The project, which will last four and a half years and has eight European partners, aims to create a tool based on Artificial Intelligence that will help clinicians in the personalized diagnosis, follow-up, and treatment of patients with lesions that normally precede the onset of gastric cancer.

Coordinated by the Spanish INCLIVA Instituto de Investigación Sanitaria, AIDA (an Artificially Intelligent Diagnostic Assistant for gastric inflammation) focuses on the prevention of a highly prevalent cancer which normally has a very late diagnosis and therefore a very low survival rate. Gastric cancer is the fifth most common type of cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death worldwide across both sexes. It affects almost one million people, causes 783,000 deaths per year, and the survival rate of patients in an advanced stage is only 12 months.

Despite advances in treatments, so far no strategy has improved the prognosis of the disease, which makes it urgent to invest more in primary and secondary prevention and intervention in the pre-symptomatic phase before the cancer develops. The aim of the AIDA project is to create an AI-powered tool to help clinicians diagnose pre-cancerous inflammations, provide personalized medical follow-up, recommend actions to monitor the health status of patients, and select the most appropriate and effective treatment.

The project includes a clinical study where histopathological, molecular, immunological, and microbiome profiles of patients with precursor lesions of stomach cancer will be evaluated. These will then be compared with those of patients without this type of lesions.

The i3S team will receive more than 500 thousand euros in funding and is coordinated by Fátima Carneiro from the Intercellular Communication and Cancer group and has the participation of the Microbes & Cancer group led by Céu Figueiredo. Researcher Fátima Carneiro, who is also Full Professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto (FMUP), will be responsible for the selection of premalignant gastric lesions through histopathological study, which is currently the best diagnostic method.

These histological images, she explains, “will then be used for the application of Artificial Intelligence methods with the aim of identifying high-risk lesions. In this way, pathologists will have one more tool to improve the accuracy of routine diagnosis of stomach cancer precursor lesions”.

The group led by Céu Figueiredo, who is also a professor at FMUP, will be responsible for identifying the virulence factors of the Helicobacter pylori bacteria and for characterizing the stomach microbiome, with the aim of establishing relationships between these factors and the presence of high-risk lesions. “In addition to the gastric microbiome, the oral microbiome of patients will also be studied, with the aim of identifying profiles that may be used as non-invasive diagnostic markers”.

The project consortium brings together 15 centers of excellence from eight European countries, creating a multidisciplinary team that includes the best European specialists in gastric inflammation and cancer (in the areas of epidemiology, immunology, oncology, pathology and gastroenterology), experts in bioinformatics, artificial intelligence and in data management and protection, representatives of public administration and patient associations.