Artificial intelligence can improve health care by analyzing data from apps, smartphones and wearable technology Photo: AFP/File

Artificial intelligence and the coming health revolution

By Rob Lever

Your next doctor could very well be a bot. And bots, or automated programs, are likely to play a key role in finding cures for some of the most difficult-to-treat diseases and conditions.

Artificial intelligence is rapidly moving into health care, led by some of the biggest technology companies and emerging startups using it to diagnose and respond to a raft of conditions.

Consider these examples:

-- California researchers detected cardiac arrhythmia with 97 percent accuracy on wearers of an Apple Watch with the AI-based Cariogram application, opening up early treatment options to avert strokes.

-- Scientists from Harvard and the University of Vermont developed a machine learning tool -- a type of AI that enables computers to learn without being explicitly programmed -- to better identify depression by studying Instagram posts, suggesting "new avenues for early screening and detection of mental illness."

-- Researchers from Britain's University of Nottingham created an algorithm that predicted heart attacks better than doctors using conventional guidelines.

While technology has always played a role in medical care, a wave of investment from Silicon Valley and a flood of data from connected devices appear to be spurring innovation.

"I think a tipping point was when Apple released its Research Kit," said Forrester Research analyst Kate McCarthy, referring to a program letting Apple users enable data from their daily activities to be used in medical studies.

McCarthy said advances in artificial intelligence has opened up new possibilities for "personalized medicine" adapted to individual genetics.

"We now have an environment where people can weave through clinical research at a speed you could never do before," she said.

AI is better known in the tech field for uses such as autonomous driving, or defeating experts in the board game Go.

But it can also be used to glean new insights from existing data such as electronic health records and lab tests, says Narges Razavian, a professor at New York University's Langone School of Medicine who led a research project on predictive analytics for more than 100 medical conditions.

"Our work is looking at trends and trying to predict (disease) six months into the future, to be able to act before things get worse," Razavian said.

-- NYU researchers analyzed medical and lab records to accurately predict the onset of dozens of diseases and conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart or kidney failure and stroke. The project developed software now used at NYU which may be deployed at other medical facilities.

-- Google's DeepMind division is using artificial intelligence to help doctors analyze tissue samples to determine the likelihood that breast and other cancers will spread, and develop the best radiotherapy treatments.

-- Microsoft, Intel and other tech giants are also working with researchers to sort through data with AI to better understand and treat lung, breast and other types of cancer.

-- Google parent Alphabet's life sciences unit Verily has joined Apple in releasing a smartwatch for studies including one to identify patterns in the progression of Parkinson's disease. Amazon meanwhile offers medical advice through applications on its voice-activated artificial assistant Alexa.

IBM has been focusing on these issues with its Watson Health unit, which uses "cognitive computing" to help understand cancer and other diseases.

When IBM's Watson computing system won the TV game show Jeopardy in 2011, "there were a lot of folks in health care who said that is the same process doctors use when they try to understand health care," said Anil Jain, chief medical officer of Watson Health.

Systems like Watson, he said, "are able to connect all the disparate pieces of information" from medical journals and other sources "in a much more accelerated way."

"Cognitive computing may not find a cure on day one, but it can help understand people's behavior and habits" and their impact on disease, Jain said.

It's not just major tech companies moving into health.

Research firm CB Insights this year identified 106 digital health startups applying machine learning and predictive analytics "to reduce drug discovery times, provide virtual assistance to patients, and diagnose ailments by processing medical images."

Maryland-based startup Insilico Medicine uses so-called "deep learning" to shorten drug testing and approval times, down from the current 10 to 15 years.

"We can take 10,000 compounds and narrow that down to 10 to find the most promising ones," said Insilico's Qingsong Zhu.

Insilico is working on drugs for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), cancer and age-related diseases, aiming to develop personalized treatments.

Artificial intelligence is also increasingly seen as a means for detecting depression and other mental illnesses, by spotting patterns that may not be obvious, even to professionals.

A research paper by Florida State University's Jessica Ribeiro found it can predict with 80 to 90 percent accuracy whether someone will attempt suicide as far off as two years into the future.

Facebook uses AI as part of a test project to prevent suicides by analyzing social network posts.

And San Francisco's Woebot Labs this month debuted on Facebook Messenger what it dubs the first chatbot offering "cognitive behavioral therapy" online -- partly as a way to reach people wary of the social stigma of seeking mental health care.

New technologies are also offering hope for rare diseases.

Boston-based startup FDNA uses facial recognition technology matched against a database associated with over 8,000 rare diseases and genetic disorders, sharing data and insights with medical centers in 129 countries via its Face2Gene application.

Lynda Chin, vice chancellor and chief innovation officer at the University of Texas System, said she sees "a lot of excitement around these tools" but that technology alone is unlikely to translate into wide-scale health benefits.

One problem, Chin said, is that data from sources as disparate as medical records and Fitbits is difficult to access due to privacy and other regulations.

More important, she said, is integrating data in health care delivery where doctors may be unaware of what's available or how to use new tools.

"Just having the analytics and data get you to step one," said Chin. "It's not just about putting an app on the app store."

© 2017 AFP

©2017 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Cheaper to eat a plant based diet. Would ruin all those multinational profiting dreams too

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Cheaper to eat a plant based diet.

Plant-based products should be a significant portion of all diets.

But it takes extra work to be properly healthy without animal based products as well. Humans were made to eat animals. Not eating them requires finding other methods to supplement that which our bodies expect.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

it takes extra work to be properly healthy without animal based products

Can't agree with you there. I suppose it depends on what you take as your starting point. If you start off from 'how to fill the hole on the plate when you remove the meat, with something exactly the same', then yes, I can see you might have a problem. If you start off with an empty plate, and consider how best to fill it up with healthy, nutritious, tasty food - not a problem, and a lot less work than slaughtering and processing Babe or Daisy the cow on an industrial scale.

Humans were made to eat animals

Wow, never took you for a Creationist.

We weren't 'made' to eat anything. We evolved eating a mainly plant-based diet with the occasional glut of meat when the hunters managed to bring down a mastodon. On a day-to-day basis, the main intake of animal flesh (if you can call it that) was most likely a handful of grubs shared by the tribe. We most certainly did not evolve to thrive on the mainly-meat diet so many folk these days think is normal. The average modern western diet gives the human body way more protein, bad fat and refined carbs than the body needs or expects.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Back on topic please.

But it takes extra work to be properly healthy without animal based products as well

Not in the slightest. Maybe that's what the marketing tells you, but certainly not according to verifiable science that shows with an immense body of evidence spanning decades, and not marketing, that you nor anyone requires animal based products in any way, should you wish to live a long and healthy life

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Food and health are directly related. The more plants you eat the healthier you are. The more animals you eat the more unhealthy you are. The science cannot be refuted, but that doesn't stop the marketing who have a financial interest to say otherwise. A good example of this is how eggs are not allowed to be marketed in the USA as noted hilariously here: ( video titled "Who Says Eggs Aren't Healthy or Safe?" ) Note each video on their site will show the references to the science articles.

Companies want people to depend on them for technology and solutions when people don't need companies at all when it comes to their health and nutrition

It will come down to who has access to the information like, who just review the data from and put it to more understandable English. I wonder what public information on health is available in Japanese to the local Japanese market? Most science publish in English but it would be important to know from more sources given the widespread public misunderstanding of how nutrition works

Japan has cool local chefs that make a nice splash about local ingredients with their craft. That will remain more important than any app

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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