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AI tool in development to predict schizophrenia

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Researchers used the EMPaSchiz, which was previously used to diagnose the condition

University of Alberta researchers in Canada have taken another step forward in developing an artificial intelligence tool to predict schizophrenia by analysing brain scans.

In recently published research, the tool was used to analyse functional magnetic resonance images of 57 healthy first-degree relatives (siblings or children) of schizophrenia patients. It accurately identified the 14 individuals who scored highest on a self-reported schizotypal personality trait scale.

Lead author Sunil Kalmady Vasu, senior machine learning specialist in the faculty of medicine and dentistry, said: “Our evidence-based tool looks at the neural signature in the brain, with the potential to be more accurate than diagnosis by the subjective assessment of symptoms alone.

“The goal is for the tool to help with early diagnosis, to study the disease process of schizophrenia and to help identify symptom clusters.”

Kalmady Vasu noted that the tool is designed to be a decision support tool and would not replace diagnosis by a psychiatrist. He also pointed out that while having schizotypal personality traits may cause people to be more vulnerable to psychosis, it is not certain that they will develop full-blown schizophrenia.

The tool, dubbed EMPaSchiz (Ensemble algorithm with Multiple Parcellations for Schizophrenia prediction), was previously used to predict a diagnosis of schizophrenia with 87 per cent accuracy by examining patient brain scans.

Kalmady Vasu said next steps for the research will test the tool’s accuracy on non-familial individuals with schizotypal traits, and to track assessed individuals over time to learn whether they develop schizophrenia later in life.

Kalmady Vasu is also using the same principles to develop algorithms to predict outcomes such as mortality and readmissions for heart failure in cardiovascular patients through the Canadian VIGOUR Centre.

“Severe mental illness and cardiovascular problems cause functional disability and impair quality of life,” Kalmady Vasu added.

“It is very important to develop objective, evidence-based tools for these complex disorders that afflict humankind.”

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