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Technology to tackle health issues

Artificial intelligence and Wi-Fi are being used in new medical devices to analyse and diagnose health conditions


The Straits Times


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NEW YORK • Americans are turning to the latest tech devices for a booster shot - to prevent and detect medical problems early and avoid costly trips to the doctor's or emergency room.


Among the new inventions are many that use artificial intelligence (AI), sensors or Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity to do a host of ground-breaking tasks, from detecting Alzheimer's disease from the sound of one's voice to telling breast cancer patients, in real-time, if their chemotherapy treatment is working.


Some patients seek out new devices as if their lives depend on them. And for some, they do.


Take, for example, Mr Jeff Brue, a tech guru for Hollywood films. He was on his honeymoon in Mexico in 2016 when his spleen ruptured and he was rushed to a hospital. Upon returning home to Los Angeles, doctors wrongly diagnosed him as having angiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer, and began aggressive chemotherapy.


"They told me I had a year to live," said Mr Brue, who was then 34. Refusing to accept the prognosis, he searched the Internet for data on his symptoms and rushed pathology reports to other major hospitals for additional opinions.


A month later, doctors confirmed an error had been made and said he actually had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which is treatable. But by then, his immune system and liver had been damaged from the wrong chemotherapy and seven biopsies.


Now awaiting a liver transplant, he attributes much of the misdiagnosis to outdated imaging tools and poor communication between radiologists and oncologists.


He set out to try and change the system, taking his OpenDrives digital storage system, which had made him a tech rock star in the film and entertainment industry, to the healthcare sector. His system will allow hospitals to store high-resolution MRI and CT scans and other 3D images on its network, without having to compress them.


Most hospital networks compress stored images, which can make them fuzzy and potentially cause doctors to miss information.


Voice-analysis technology, which can detect mental and physical health conditions, such as coronary artery disease, Alzheimer's and sleep apnea from the sound of one's voice, is another promising area. The technology uses AI to assess hundreds of metrics - such as pitch, tone, pauses, word choices, breathing and how a person describes a photo - to spot problems.


"The manner in which we speak and the word choices we make can be evaluated to accurately detect a growing list of clinical conditions," said Mr Rich Ross, healthcare research director at research and advisory firm Gartner.


More researchers are using AI to help radiologists make more accurate diagnostic decisions, especially in the area of breast cancer.


About 41,000 women in the US died from breast cancer last year, and women have a one in eight chance of developing the ailment in their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society.


Professor Regina Barzilay at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)and Ms Constance Lehman, chief of breast imaging at the department of radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital, created an AI system to better detect lesions seen on mammograms.


Current diagnostic tools make it tough to know definitively whether a lesion is high risk, benign or malignant, especially if the patient has dense breast tissue, said Prof Barzilay.


This can result in false-positive results that lead to unnecessary biopsies and surgeries.


Her team's system uses machine learning to detect similarities between a patient's breast and a database of 70,000 images for which the malignant or benign outcome was known.


She expects that her early-detection technology, which is being used at Massachusetts General Hospital, will be tested in 10 to 15 more hospitals by the end of the year.


Another promising advance is MIT's "X-ray vision" technology, using Wi-Fi and radio waves to see through walls to monitor patients with movement disorders or those prone to falling.


Professor Dina Katabi at MIT is testing a wireless smart-home system, called Emerald, that uses AI, sensors and radio signals to track a person's movements, sleep stages, heartbeat, breathing, gait and other metrics as long as Wi-Fi is present. Basically, radio signals bounce off the body, sending the reflection onto the device's screen - in the form of a stick figure - that walks, sits, stops and moves its limbs just as the person does.


The technology is aimed at making it easy to collect health and motion data in a non-intrusive way to monitor conditions such as Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis or even sleep apnea so that doctors can adjust medications as needed.


It can detect side effects or wrong drug doses through changes in heartbeat, breathing or other metrics, and monitor falls by older people who live alone.


"Today, if you have a sleep issue and want to know how much deep sleep you're getting, you go to a sleep laboratory and they put... electrodes on your head, other sensors on your body, and then ask you to sleep like that," Prof Katabi said.


With a "smart" Wi-Fi box, all the data would be collected without the need for body sensors.




Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.



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