NEW technology could help fight a killer disease linked to old industry, it is claimed.

Rates of “asbestos cancer” mesothelioma in Scotland are amongst the highest in the world, with many cases linked to work in heavy industries.

Former shipyard staff, mechanics, construction workers and factory employees are at higher risk of developing the condition due to exposure to the banned material, which was used for insulation.

Now an Edinburgh tech firm hopes to use artificial intelligence to give patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) new hope.

Canon Medical Research Europe is working with mesothelioma specialist Dr Kevin Blyth, of NHS Glasgow & Clyde, to develop a new tool capable of detecting, assessing and measuring tumours to aid treatment for the rare and aggressive condition.

It is hoped the system will save time, money and lives in the fight against cancer.

Blyth said: “MPM is an exceptionally challenging cancer to start with, but the possibilities are enormous using Canon Medical’s technology our clinical and research input.

“While it is an ambitious project we are positive that whatever we learn will be valuable for advancing medical knowledge and taking us towards a world in which treatments are increasingly tailored, affordable, and successful.”

Canon Medical has secured a £140,000 award from the Holyrood-funded Cancer Innovation Challenge (CIC) to develop a prototype combining artificial intelligence with medical imaging technology.

Currently, efforts to treat patients with MPM are complicated by difficulties in determining how large tumours are.

While most tumours are roughly spherical, mesothelioma grows in a “skin-like” manner around the lung, making measurement difficult, time-consuming and more prone to errors.

The lack of certainty that results makes it difficult to ascertain how well a treatment is working and to ensure individual patients get the most effective help.

Canon Medical aims to create a system capable of speedy and accurate mesothelioma tumour measurement to help clinicians deliver and cut the cost of cancer drugs.

The company hopes that more reliable assessments will make clinical trials more cost effective, producing knock-on reductions in drug charges.

Dr Ken Sutherland, president of Canon Medical Research Europe, said: “Canon Medical is fully focused on improving the lives of patients and providing the latest and most advanced clinical decision support tools to clinicians. We are actively tackling those areas where our technology and know-how can make a significant impact on people’s lives.

“MPM is a terrible condition for those that are unfortunate enough to suffer from it, and we believe that an automated assessment method using AI would be a major advance in fighting this disease and, potentially, other forms of lung cancer. The funding from CIC is critical to developing this ground-breaking tool.”

The news follows a landmark legal win for the family of a woman who developed mesothelioma after handling her late husband’s work clothes.

Adrienne Sweeney, who died in 2015, laundered items for William Sweeney, who worked at Babcock & Wilcox boiler factory in Renfrew during the 1960s.

Her family was awarded almost £250,000 in compensation at the end of July.

Commenting on the Canon Medical project, Trade, Investment and Innovation Minister Ivan McKee said: “Most of us will have been affected by cancer at some stage either personally or through family members. This research, if successful, will bring us closer to vital advances in cancer treatment through data science.”