A test using artificial intelligence could hold the key to more targeted treatment of bowel cancer, new research has suggested.

The test uses artificial intelligence to measure proteins present in patients with advanced bowel cancer to help doctors decide on the best treatment options.

Experts from the University of Leeds collaborated with researchers at Roche Diagnostics to develop the test.

They used samples from a previous trial, funded by Cancer research UK, to look at levels of two proteins – AREG and EREG – produced by some colorectal cancers.

AI algorithms were able to show patients with higher levels of these proteins who received significant benefit from a treatment which inhibits these proteins, known as EGRF.

Patients with low levels of proteins did not benefit from treatment with EGRF.

Currently, anti-EGFR treatments are only given to patients with advanced, incurable bowel cancers, but researchers hope their methodology could be used in the future to identify patients in the earlier stages of illness who could also benefit from the drugs.

Christopher Williams, from Leeds University’s division of pathology and data analytics and lead author of the report, said: “As more treatment options become available for advanced colorectal cancer, it is becoming increasingly difficult for patients and their doctors to choose the treatment that’s right for them.

“This test will help patients navigate this decision-making process more easily.”

Kandavel Shanmugam, senior director of medical innovation at Roche Diagnostics, added: “As increasing numbers of complex tests are developed to target the right cancer treatments to the right patients, developing streamlined methods for delivering test results will be essential to improve cancer care.

“By using artificial intelligence to semi-automate the test process, we anticipate it may be easier for results to be delivered to patients faster to better influence treatment decisions.”

The study was funded by Innovate UK, Roche Diagnostics and Yorkshire Cancer Research.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and has the second highest cancer death rate. One in 15 men and one in 18 women will be diagnosed with bowel cancer during their lifetime, according to Bowel Cancer Research UK.

The disease is treatable and curable if caught early, which is why diagnostic tests like this AI tool to identify patients who could benefit from certain treatments earlier are vital for saving lives.