Health+Technology | Technology facilitating early diagnosis | tidings

In health care, the ability to diagnose early can be the difference between life and death or lifelong illness and expensive medical care. Many times, diseases such as non-communicable diseases (NCDs), especially cancers, can be better treated if detected early. Cancer is still among the top 10 causes of death in Jamaica and several NCDs round out the rest of the list. Early diagnosis is essential in many cases to prevent death or disability.

Cancer, which is the general term for a group of different types of malignant tumors, is the leading cause of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2020, cancer was responsible for nearly 10 million deaths worldwide.

Jamaica’s situation is much the same as the global picture, as cancer is also among the top 10 causes of death and is responsible for about 20 percent of total deaths annually. In 2018, according to data from the Ministry of Health and Welfare and WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, we should have seen over seven thousand new cases of cancer, and the numbers continue to rise.

As health development advances, technology has been increasingly adopted to help diagnose diseases in general and various types of cancer in particular. Artificial intelligence (AI) as well as computing, machines and deep learning are clearly emerging as the best methods to achieve this goal.

Just a few years ago, a revolutionary cancer diagnostic tool was developed that shows how efficient and accurate artificial intelligence can be in diagnosing cancer. The system, originally developed by neuropathologist Matija Snuderl of New York University’s Perlmutter Langone Cancer Center, “received state approval to use its AI classifier as a diagnostic test in October 2019, and researchers around the world are developing systems to similar to help pathologists diagnose cancer more accurately.” https://www.nature.com.

Artificial intelligence has the ability to recognize patterns and detect elements that are too subtle for the human eye. This makes it a better option to detect cancer in its earliest stages. It can specifically capture cancer by type and subtype so that treatment is simple and specific for better patient outcomes.

In recent years, many organizations began developing AI tools to better enable doctors to detect various types of cancer early. Colorectal cancer, for example, was the second most common cancer worldwide in 2020 and has a high mortality rate. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/). For this reason, many efforts have been made in research to reduce its incidence and the resulting deaths.

ALGORITHMS AND AI

Machine learning algorithms and AI are better able to detect colorectal cancer, and even the possibility of developing that type of cancer, than colonoscopy. Although, colonoscopy has a high detection and accuracy rate, “artificial intelligence has provided tools and algorithms capable of achieving high performance in terms of accuracy, sensitivity and specificity to cope with tasks related to feature extraction, classification, detection and segmentation of the region”. Viscaino, et al.

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research supported an international research team to study the extent to which artificial intelligence and deep learning can detect molecular and genetic changes in tumor images of 14 types of cancer. Study co-leader researcher Alexander Pearson and his team concluded that “the deep learning program successfully predicted a range of genetic and molecular changes in all fourteen cancer types tested. For example, the algorithm detected with high accuracy a mutated form of a gene thought to be the main driver of head and neck cancer. It also accurately predicted the presence of standard molecular markers such as hormone receptors in breast cancer. Hormone receptor status is an important factor in guiding treatment options for breast cancer patients.

The use of technology in healthcare diagnostics is becoming more widespread. AI has become a useful tool to achieve a more specific diagnosis that would be impossible without it. It is also used to catch people at risk of developing certain types of cancer to catch the disease sooner or take steps to prevent it from developing.

The overall objective is for the technology to improve patient care by being able to have targeted treatment as well as preventive care for better health outcomes.

Doug Halsall is chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems. Email comments to [email protected] and [email protected]

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