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IBM, University of Alberta use machine learning to predict schizophrenia
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IBM, University of Alberta use machine learning to predict schizophrenia 

IBM scientists, working with their counterparts and researchers from the University of Alberta have found that artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms can help predict the instances of schizophrenia with 74 per cent accuracy.

Their retrospective analysis also showed the technology predicted the severity of specific symptoms in schizophrenia patients with significant correlation, based on correlations between activity observed across different regions of the brain.

This pioneering research could also help scientists identify more reliable objective neuroimaging biomarkers that could be used to predict schizophrenia and its severity.

“This unique, innovative multidisciplinary approach opens new insights and advances our understanding of the neurobiology of schizophrenia, which may help to improve the treatment and management of the disease,” said Dr. Serdar Dursun, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience with the University of Alberta. “We’ve discovered a number of significant abnormal connections in the brain that can be explored in future studies, and AI-created models bring us one step closer to finding objective neuroimaging-based patterns that are diagnostic and prognostic markers of schizophrenia.”

320 Brain scan Schizophrenia IBM

Photo caption: Here, we see the regions of the brain that showed a statistically significant difference between patients with schizophrenia and patients without it. For example, arrow 1 identifies the precentral gyrus, or the motor cortex, and arrow 5 marks the precuneus, which involves processing visual information. (CNW Group/IBM Canada Ltd.)

In the paper, researchers analyzed de-identified brain functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) data from the open data set, Function Biomedical Informatics Research Network (fBIRN) for patients with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorders, as well as a healthy control group.

fMRI measures brain activity through blood flow changes in particular areas of the brain. Specifically, the fBIRN data set reflects research done on brain networks at different levels of resolution, from data gathered while study participants conducted a common auditory test.

Examining scans from 95 participants, researchers used machine learning techniques to develop a model of schizophrenia that identifies the connections in the brain most associated with the illness.

The research demonstrated that, even on more challenging neuroimaging data collected from multiple sites (different machines, across different groups of subjects etc.) the machine learning algorithm was able to discriminate between patients with schizophrenia and the control group with 74 per cent accuracy using the correlations in activity across different areas of the brain. 

The research also showed that functional network connectivity could also help determine the severity of several symptoms after they have manifested in the patient, including inattentiveness, bizarre behavior and formal thought disorder, as well as alogia, (poverty of speech) and lack of motivation.

The prediction of symptom severity could lead to a more quantitative, measurement-based characterization of schizophrenia; viewing the disease on a spectrum, as opposed to a binary label of diagnosis or non-diagnosis. This objective, data-driven approach to severity analysis could eventually help clinicians identify treatment plans that are customized to the individual. 

“The ultimate goal of this research effort is to identify and develop objective, data-driven measures for characterizing mental states, and apply them to psychiatric and neurological disorders,” said Ajay Royyuru, vice-president of healthcare and life sciences at IBM Research. “We also hope to offer new insights into how AI and machine learning can be used to analyze psychiatric and neurological disorders to aid psychiatrists in their assessment and treatment of patients.”

As part of the ongoing partnership, researchers will continue to investigate areas and connections in the brain that hold significant links to schizophrenia. Work will continue on improving the algorithms by conducting machine learning analysis on larger datasets, and by exploring ways to extend these techniques to other psychiatric disorders such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

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