The Future of Medicine: Brain Scan Databanks

AI_picCloud computing and the internet are having a profound effect on the field of medicine. As more and more patients have their records digitized and posted in online medical sources, doctor’s are able to better track patient histories, conduct referrals, and make speedier diagnoses. And now, doctors at John Hopkins University are working on a cloud-computing project specifically for children’s brain scans.

By collecting and categorizing thousands of MRI scans from kids with normal and abnormal brains, they say the resulting database will give physicians a sophisticated, “Google-like” search system to help find similar scans as well as the medical records of those children. Such a system could help not only enhance the diagnosis of brain disorders, but the treatment as well, maybe even before clinical symptoms are obvious to the naked eye.

Miller_JohnHopkinsMichael I. Miller, a lead investigator on the project who also heads up the university’s Center for Imaging Science, said in a news release:

If doctors aren’t sure which disease is causing a child’s condition, they could search the data bank for images that closely match their patient’s most recent scan. If a diagnosis is already attached to an image from the data bank, that could steer the physician in the right direction. Also, the scans in our library may help a physician identify a change in the shape of a brain structure that occurs very early in the course of a disease, even before clinical symptoms appear. That could allow the physician to get an early start on the treatment.

Susumu Mori, a radiology professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and co-lead investigator on what he calls the “biobank,” says that a collection of brain scans of this size will also help neuroradiologists and physicians identify specific malformations far faster than is currently possible.

brain-activityMori has spent the past four-plus years working on a clinical database of more than 5,000 whole brain MRI scans of children who’ve come through Johns Hopkins. This project involved indexing anatomical data on 1,000 structural measurements in 250 brain regions that were ultimately sorted into 22 brain disease categories, including infections, psychiatric disorders, epilepsy, and chromosomal abnormalities.

The project, which was made possible by a three-year $600,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, is still in its pilot stage and available only to physicians and patients within the Johns Hopkins medical system. But the researchers say it could open up and expand to other networks in the coming years. Such an expansion would presumably benefit not only other physicians and patients, but the database itself.

brainscansResearchers are also working on a similar project to collect scans of elderly patients to focus on age-related diseases and neurological disorders. Combined with the pediatric databank, this new brain scan archive will not only help recognize established neurological disorders, but could even possibly help identify and classify new ones as well.

But one of the key words here in anonymous. While cloud computing and patient files may raise the specter of privacy for many, the current project maintains patient confidentially. And one can further assume that voluntary compliance will be maintained as databases like these expand. After all, one does not need to know a patient’s name in order to examine what anomalies their brains exhibit.

And in the meantime, be sure to check out this video of Michael Miller explaining the new brain scan project and computational anatomy in greater detail:


Source:
news.cnet.com

The Future is Here: Brain Scanning for Pets!

Up_Doug_talkingdogRemember that scene in the Disney Pixar’s Up, where the old man and the little boy discover a dog who, thanks to a special collar, is able to talk to them? As it stands, that movie may have proven to be more prophetic than anyone would have thought. Thanks to improvements in wearable tech and affordable EEG monitors, it may finally be possible to read your dog’s mind and translate it into speech.

This is not the first case of commercial technology being used to monitor an animal’s habits. In recent years, wearable devices have been made available that an track the exercise, sleeping and eating patterns of a dog. But now, thanks to EEG devices like the “No More Woof”, it might be possible to track their thoughts, learning exactly what they think of that new couch, their new dry food, or the neighbors cat.

Woof_no_more1Tomas Mazzetti, the devices inventor, came up with the idea after he got as to what would happen if he strapped an off-the-shelf EEG machine to his mother’s Australian terrier. The observations that followed inspired the launch of a new project for Mazzetti and his team of fellow creatives at the Nordic Society for Invention and Discovery.

This society – which represents a collaboration between the ad agency Studio Total and Swedish retailer MiCasa – has spawned a number of quirky products in the past. These include a rocking chair that charges your iPad, a weather forecasting lamp, and a levitating carpet for small-ish pets. No More Woof is the society’s latest work, and the team recently launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise more funding for research.

Woof_no_moreSo far, Mazzetti and his team have been able to determine three baseline dog emotions to translate into speech: sleepiness, agitation, and curiosity. In time, they hope to be able to decipher hunger pangs as processed by a dog’s brain, and come up with appropriate verbalizations for all:

When the dog is sleepy, we translate to ‘I’m tired.’ And if they are really agitated, we can translate to ‘I’m excited!’ And the most active brainwave is when the dog sees a human face and tries to recognize that face. Then the brain is working overtime.

Mazzetti and the NSID are also working on finding cheaper EEG machines, after which they can fine-tune the software. They’ve done tests on roughly 20 dogs, of which they found that short-haired pets were able to communicate with the EEG machine better. If NSID receives more funding, its researchers hope to have something for sale by March or April of next year.

Brainwave-Frequency-ChartBut while Mazzetti’s primary goal is to produce something commercially viable for use with dogs, he’s also hopeful that other research institutions or retailers will pick up where NSID leaves off. For example, what thoughts could be translated if someone were to put a more sophisticated version of No More Woof on the head of a primate, or another highly intelligent mammal?

Looking even further afield, Mazzetti has suggested that such a device could work both ways, translating human speech into concepts that a dog (or other animal) could understand. As we all know, dogs are very good at learning verbal commands, but again, the idea of two-way communication offers possibilities to convey complex messages with other, more highly-intelligent animals.

humpbackCould it be possible someday to communicate with simians without the need for sign language, to commune openly with dolphins and Orcas, or warn Humpbacks about the impending dangers of whalers and deep sea fishers? Perhaps, and it would certainly be to the benefit of all. Not only would we be able to get our mammalian brethren to better understand us, we might just learn something ourselves!

After all, the line that separates humanity from all other species is a rather fine one, and tends to blur to closer we inspect it. By being able to commune with other species in a way that can circumvent “language barriers”, we might just learn that we have more in common than we think, and aren’t such a big, screaming deal after all.

And in the meantime, enjoy this video of the No More Woof in action:


And be sure to check out this clip from Up where Doug (the talking dog) is introduced, with hilarious results!