Scientists aim to develop new method to reduce carbon footprint caused by CT imaging

Members of the NetZeroAICT Consortium group

Not many people realise that computerized tomography (CT imaging) has a significant carbon footprint. 

As an essential part of medical care over 300 million CT scans are performed globally each year creating an average carbon footprint of 9kg per scan.

Needle, dressings and packaging used as part of the CT scan process contribute to the carbon footprint as they can only be used once. In addition, around 60% of CT scans (180million per year globally) require the injection of iodinated Radiocontrast media (RCM) - medical solution which improves the visibility of scanned organs.

Iodinated RCM has a carbon footprint because it is not absorbed by the body but removed through urine - this is then released into sewage water which harms the environment.      

Now a European team of scientists, including experts from the University of Leicester, is set to develop and implement climate neutral and sustainable alternatives to conventional contrast CT imaging using RCM - thanks to €6 million funding from the European Union (EU) Horizon Europe and UK Research Innovation.

The team’s aim is to reduce the environmental footprint of CT imaging and ease the global reliance on RCM. 

Led by the University of Oxford, it is coordinated by healthcare collaboration company, Collective Minds Radiology which has services in clinical consultation, education, and research. 

The 20-strong team members will develop new trustworthy artificial intelligence (AI) to optimize CT Digital Contrast. This will transform hospital radiology services providing an alternative to needling and injection of RCM currently used. It will also reduce radiation exposure, related patient complications, and hospital waiting times for CT scans. Another added benefit will be the use of digital CT scans for medical research purposes.

Professor Regent Lee is a Surgeon Scientist Entrepreneur at University of Oxford and the Scientific Coordinator of the newly formed team entitled - NetZeroAICT Consortium

He has led a team to develop the pioneering method of CT Digital Contrast and established the international consortium to advance research and development of technology using its broad expertise in healthcare, academia and industry.

Professor Lee said: “The combined consortium expertise will enable us to develop and deploy trustworthy ‘green’ AI software as medical device with the ultimate goal to reduce the environmental footprint from CT imaging. European patients will have access to safer, faster, equitable and sustainable healthcare delivery while the healthcare systems strengthen their alignment with the European Green Deal. This is a new era of translational research. In addition to improving patients’ health, our aspiration is to improve planetary health for future generations.”     

The first step towards delivering the aims of the project is the development of a secure CT image bank – the only one of its kind - consisting of 500 million images which will be completely de-personalised and stored so that they are ‘research ready’. It will contain information from more than 10 hospital groups from countries around the world (France, Greece, Poland, Belgium, England, Scotland, Australia, Brazil).  

Project Coordinator, Anders Nordell (CEO of Collective Minds Radiology) said: “There is almost unlimited expertise and data in healthcare. The problem is that it is locked into silos. In order to advance care, more collaboration is needed. The NetZeroAICT project will break these barriers and set a new standard with the ‘cleanest’ data for AI research in CT imaging. We have developed privacy preserving technology and international legal frameworks which enables international health data sharing, highly secure and compliant with privacy regulations, such as GDPR.” 

Professor Matthew Bown, British Heart Foundation Professor of Vascular Surgery from the University of Leicester said: “This is a fantastic programme to be involved in - not only will it facilitate important medical research, benefitting patients and their healthcare experience, but it will also contribute to the NHS’ commitment to meet net zero targets and help the environment.”

*The NetZeroAICT Consortium will be working collaboratively with patients, the public and professionals throughout. If you would like to get involved email