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Redefining dementia detection

Through the use of AI, dementia can now be detected at an earlier stage, in quicker time and at a lower cost than ever before, with the added ability of remote use. Dr Sina Habibi, CEO of Cognetivity, tells Health Tech World about the team’s groundbreaking work in redefining this area of healthcare 

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Through the development of pioneering AI-led technology has come the power to reinvent dementia detection. 

Following years of R&D, successful clinical trials and medical approval, Cognetivity Neurosciences is now being used in both primary and secondary care to find pre-dementia symptoms through a simple test in a quicker time and at a lower cost than ever before. 

With its non-invasive, low risk tech system able to be used by patients remotely, as well as in a healthcare setting, Cognetivity is also helping to pave the way towards a digital future for healthcare, which has become much more widely accepted during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Broadly, its technology works by showing a patient a series of pictures, to which they have to respond as quickly and accurately as possible whether they have seen a pre-specified image category. AI algorithms then cluster test performance in terms of accuracy, speed and image properties, giving rapid and highly accurate results. 

The information can then prove crucial in determining next steps for patients, securing better outcomes, saving significant sums of money in care and examination costs, and offering “queue-busting functionality” in cutting waiting times and removing the need for potentially unnecessary appointments. 

Cognetivity, founded in 2013, is pioneered by founders Dr Sina Habibi and Dr Seyed-Mahdi Khaligh-Razavi. Combining their expertise and Cambridge PhDs in engineering and cognition & brain sciences respectively, the concept of Cognetivity was born through the discovery of a breakthrough idea from Dr Khaligh-Razavi’s research. 

Dr Sina Habibi

“We started with a solution and then looked for the problem,” says Dr Habibi, CEO of Cognetivity.  

“In human vision, the eyes work like a camera and the brain makes sense of what happens. But he realised the ability to process visual information drops in time, as you get older it takes longer. They were very interesting observations, so thought let’s put this hypothesis to the test. 

“We wrote the code and put it in front of friends aged between 18 and 35, and we saw correlation between age and performance in the test. 

“We knew there was something in this and we had a very accurate means of assessing cognitive ability. 

“There is a huge problem with dementia detection. Half of people would not receive a formal diagnosis, so it is a major risk factor. 

“We went about collecting a lot of clinical data, but it was a bit of a chicken and egg situation – you need data to validate your solution, but without a validated solution you can’t collect data.” 

From the origins of Cognetivity in 2013, several years of validating the technology through clinical trials followed, with the team’s painstaking efforts leading to medical approval from regulators in 2019. Through the onset of COVID-19, research into the unassisted remote use of the technology by patients was delayed and is still ongoing, but it is very much in use in NHS primary and secondary care settings. 

In primary care, the setting Cognetivity believes holds most potential, it has been adopted by Sunderland GP Alliance, a federation of 35 practices in the North East of England. It is also being used by North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare NHS Trust, a specialist mental health trust. 

“Our technology is very much tailored to primary care use, this is where we see it being most effective. It can be five to ten times faster than other technology available, and five to ten times cheaper. It does both of these things while also being more accurate, saving GPs time in the process,” says Dr Habibi.  

“Historically, MCI patients have been abandoned because right now there is nothing to be done for them. In the absence of any treatment, lifestyle plays an important role and can delay the onset of symptoms, if applied at earlier stages of the disease progression. 

“Up to half of dementias can be prevented through lifestyle factors. It is very expensive for healthcare to deal with this, but we are well positioned to play a role in tackling this by detecting earlier and enabling a healthier lifestyle. 

“In secondary care, patients come in with a referral letter and we can use our technology to triage.  It is much more accurate than the pen and paper tests. To be fully assessed is a long and expensive process, so we can help determine the ones who need to be seen as a priority, while also providing reassurance to the ‘worried well’ and telling them everything is fine, come back and see us in a year’s time.”

And while its ease of use lends itself to remote operation, giving independence to patients while removing the need for them to consult a GP in the first instance, COVID-19 has played a central role in popularising this mindset within healthcare. 

“We were telling clinicians ‘You don’t have to bring patients in for cognitive tests’ but many weren’t really open to change, it’s human nature not to want to change habits, but it can really help patients and in-person appointments can be a massive drain on resources,” says Dr Habibi.  

“COVID accelerated that change, everyone was then talking about not bringing people into hospital unless they absolutely had to and it was a matter of life and death, to bring them in for other matters could be very risky. 

“They tried to do pen and paper tests via the internet but didn’t succeed, they expected elderly patients to have the full-on kit with fast internet, headphones, webcam. This highlighted how important it is that we can do these things very simply, done remotely without any training or supervision, in a simple and user-friendly way.

“We see the future of healthcare going this way. There is lots we can do with the technology and resources available to us. Through products such as ours, where tests can be done on a screen, it can save one day of consulting and travelling time.”

With its effectiveness in dementia now recognised and the business progressing rapidly in the wider adoption of its technology, Cognetivity is continuing to innovate to apply its creation to more concerns within healthcare. 

“We are doing a lot of R&D work and are looking to collect data on other neurological disorders, including MS and other conditions, anywhere there is an impairment due to a medical condition,” says Dr Habibi. 

“We’re taking it to even the pre-clinical stages of disease, looking at how healthy adults can enter the phase of mild cognitive impairment and how we can detect that. 

“There is great potential there, undoubtedly.”

 

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