AI

Scientists Are Failing To Replicate AI Studies (sciencemag.org) 87

The booming field of artificial intelligence (AI) is grappling with a replication crisis, much like the ones that have afflicted psychology, medicine, and other fields over the past decade. From a report: AI researchers have found it difficult to reproduce many key results, and that is leading to a new conscientiousness about research methods and publication protocols. "I think people outside the field might assume that because we have code, reproducibility is kind of guaranteed," says Nicolas Rougier, a computational neuroscientist at France's National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation in Bordeaux. "Far from it." Last week, at a meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) in New Orleans, Louisiana, reproducibility was on the agenda, with some teams diagnosing the problem -- and one laying out tools to mitigate it.
Medicine

Concussions Can Be Detected With New Blood Test Approved by FDA. (nytimes.com) 21

The Food and Drug Administration this week approved a long-awaited blood test to detect concussions in people and more quickly identify those with possible brain injuries [Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source]. From a report: The test, called the Banyan Brain Trauma Indicator, is also expected to reduce the number of people exposed to radiation through CT scans, or computed tomography scans, that detect brain tissue damage or intracranial lesions. If the blood test is adopted widely, it could eliminate the need for CT scans in at least a third of those with suspected brain injuries, the agency predicted. Concussion-related brain damage has become a particularly worrisome public health issue in many sports, especially football, affecting the ranks of professional athletes on down to the young children in Pop Warner leagues. Those concerns have escalated so far that it has led to a decline in children participating in tackle sports.
AI

To Fight Fatal Infections, Hospitals May Turn to Algorithms (scientificamerican.com) 4

The technology used by Facebook, Google and Amazon to turn spoken language into text, recognize faces and target advertising could help doctors combat one of the deadliest killers in American hospitals. From a report: Clostridium difficile, a deadly bacterium spread by physical contact with objects or infected people, thrives in hospitals, causing 453,000 cases a year and 29,000 deaths in the United States, according to a 2015 study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Traditional methods such as monitoring hygiene and warning signs often fail to stop the disease. But what if it were possible to systematically target those most vulnerable to C-diff? Erica Shenoy, an infectious-disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Jenna Wiens, a computer scientist and assistant professor of engineering at the University of Michigan, did just that when they created an algorithm to predict a patient's risk of developing a C-diff infection, or CDI. Using patients' vital signs and other health records, this method -- still in an experimental phase -- is something both researchers want to see integrated into hospital routines. The CDI algorithm -- based on a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning -- is at the leading edge of a technological wave starting to hit the U.S. health care industry. After years of experimentation, machine learning's predictive powers are well-established, and it is poised to move from labs to broad real-world applications, said Zeeshan Syed, who directs Stanford University's Clinical Inference and Algorithms Program.
Medicine

Hospitals May Turn To Algorithms To Fight Fatal Infections (scientificamerican.com) 54

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Scientific American: Clostridium difficile, a deadly bacterium spread by physical contact with objects or infected people, thrives in hospitals, causing 453,000 cases a year and 29,000 deaths in the United States, according to a 2015 study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Traditional methods such as monitoring hygiene and warning signs often fail to stop the disease. But what if it were possible to systematically target those most vulnerable to C-diff? Erica Shenoy, an infectious-disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Jenna Wiens, a computer scientist and assistant professor of engineering at the University of Michigan, did just that when they created an algorithm to predict a patient's risk of developing a C-diff infection, or CDI. Using patients' vital signs and other health records, this method -- still in an experimental phase -- is something both researchers want to see integrated into hospital routines.

The CDI algorithm -- based on a form of artificial intelligence called machine learning -- is at the leading edge of a technological wave starting to hit the U.S. health care industry. After years of experimentation, machine learning's predictive powers are well-established, and it is poised to move from labs to broad real-world applications, said Zeeshan Syed, who directs Stanford University's Clinical Inference and Algorithms Program. Shenoy and Wiens' CDI algorithm analyzed a data set from 374,000 inpatient admissions to Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Michigan Health System, seeking connections between cases of CDI and the circumstances behind them. The records contained over 4,000 distinct variables. As it repeatedly analyzes this data, the ML process extracts warning signs of disease that doctors may miss -- constellations of symptoms, circumstances and details of medical history most likely to result in infection at any point in the hospital stay.

AI

In the Wake of Fake News, Several Universities Including MIT and Harvard Introduce New Course On Ethics and Regulation of AI (nytimes.com) 177

The medical profession has an ethic: First, do no harm. Silicon Valley has an ethos: Build it first and ask for forgiveness later. Now, in the wake of fake news and other troubles at tech companies, universities that helped produce some of Silicon Valley's top technologists are hustling to bring a more medicine-like morality to computer science, the New York Times reporter. From the report: This semester, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are jointly offering a new course on the ethics and regulation of artificial intelligence. The University of Texas at Austin just introduced a course titled "Ethical Foundations of Computer Science" -- with the idea of eventually requiring it for all computer science majors. And at Stanford University, the academic heart of the industry, three professors and a research fellow are developing a computer science ethics course for next year. They hope several hundred students will enroll. The idea is to train the next generation of technologists and policymakers to consider the ramifications of innovations -- like autonomous weapons or self-driving cars -- before those products go on sale.
Medicine

The Flu and Airports (fastcompany.com) 180

An anonymous reader writes: The CDC says this year's flu season is on track to either rival or dethrone 2009's swine flu. 3,000 people across the U.S. have died as a result of the flu in the first 20 days of 2018, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, and that number has likely risen. If you want to avoid the flu (and of course you do) the National Institute of Health says orange juice won't cut it. Instead, the best flu prevention is a vaccine, and it's not too late to get one. Pair a flu shot with frequent hand washing, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth so you don't transfer any virus from your hands, and you just might manage to avoid the flu.
Medicine

FDA Declares Popular Alt-Medicine Kratom an Opioid (nbcnews.com) 230

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NBC News: The Food and Drug Administration declared the popular herbal product kratom to be an opioid on Tuesday, opening a new front in its battle to get people to stop using it. New research shows kratom acts in the brain just as opioids do, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. And he said the agency has documented 44 cases in which kratom at least helped kill people -- often otherwise healthy young people.

"Taken in total, the scientific evidence we've evaluated about kratom provides a clear picture of the biologic effect of this substance," Gottlieb wrote. "Kratom should not be used to treat medical conditions, nor should it be used as an alternative to prescription opioids. There is no evidence to indicate that kratom is safe or effective for any medical use." The FDA released detailed accounts of several of the deaths. The victims often had mixed kratom with other substances, including chemicals taken out of inhalers and found in over-the-counter cold and flu drugs.

Medicine

Drones Could Soon Be Used To Deliver Medical Supplies in North Carolina (newsobserver.com) 32

Drones could soon be ferrying blood and other medical supplies to hospitals and clinics in North Carolina if the N.C. Department of Transportation's bid to be part of a federal test program is approved. From a report: NCDOT is leading a team of private companies that proposes to set up a network of distribution centers that would use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to make medical deliveries in North Carolina. The drone delivery companies, including Matternet and Zipline, operate overseas but not in the U.S. "We're really excited that drone technology may allow doctors and hospitals to save more lives in North Carolina soon," Bobby Walston, the state Director of Aviation, said in a statement. "We've been researching and investing in drone technology for years at NCDOT. This proposal represents the next big step for us as we remain a national leader in the UAS field." The North Carolina proposal is one of about 210 applications to the Federal Aviation Administration's Drone Integration Pilot Program, a three-year effort launched by the Trump administration last fall to test drones for various purposes to help determine how to safely expand the use of commercial drones in the U.S.
Medicine

Drug Firms Shipped 20.8 Million Pain Pills To West Virginia Town of 2,900 (foxnews.com) 347

A congressional committee investigating the opioid crisis has discovered out-of-state drug companies shipped 20.8 million prescription painkillers over a decade to two pharmacies in a Southern West Virginia town with 2,900 people. From a report: Between 2006 and 2016, two drug wholesalers shipped 10.2 million hydrocodone pills and 10.6 million oxycodone pills to Tug Valley Pharmacy and Hurley Drug in the town of Williamson, in Mingo County, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported. "These numbers are outrageous, and we will get to the bottom of how this destruction was able to be unleashed across West Virginia," the House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore. and ranking member Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J. said in a joint statement.
Medicine

Apple Adds Medical Records Feature For iPhone (cnbc.com) 101

On Wednesday, Apple released the test version of a new product that lets users download their health records, store them safely and show them to a doctor, caregiver or friend. "We view the future as consumers owning their own health data," Apple COO Jeff Williams said in an interview with CNBC. From the report: It all works when a user opens the iPhone's health app, navigates to the health record section, and, on the new tool, adds a health provider. From there, the user taps to connect to Apple's software system and data start streaming into the service. Patients will get notified via an alert if new information becomes available. In June, CNBC first reported on Apple's plans, including early discussions with top U.S. hospitals. The company confirmed that it has contracts with about a dozen hospitals across the country, including Cedars-Sinai, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Penn Medicine and the University of California, San Diego. The medical information available will include allergies, conditions, immunizations, lab results, medications, procedures and vitals. The information is encrypted and protected through a user's iPhone passcode.
Space

In the Search for Alien Life, 'Everyone Is an Astrobiologist' (scientificamerican.com) 41

Mary Voytek, NASA's senior scientist for astrobiology, likes to tell other researchers that "everyone is an astrobiologist; they just don't know it yet." From a report: What she means is that answering the question currently at the heart of astrobiology -- Does life exist beyond Earth? -- requires input from an incredibly wide range of disciplines, including astrophysics, geology, exoplanet science, planetary science, chemistry and various subfields of biology.

On the plus side, that means astrobiologists have a lot of resources to draw on. But it also means that people like Voytek have to deal with a flood of relevant information coming in from all of those scientific fields and figure out how to get scientists from those disciplines to work together. Voytek and other NASA representatives discussed how they are dealing with that information influx, and the interdisciplinary nature of the field, at the Astrobiology Science Strategy for the Search for Life in the Universe meeting, hosted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, here at the University of California, Irvine this week.

Medicine

The Second Coming of Ultrasound (wired.com) 61

Ultrasound, which works on the principle of piezoelectricity, is finding a second lease of life in medicine, Wired outlines. Applying voltage to a piezoelectric crystal makes it vibrate, sending out a sound wave. When the echo that bounces back is converted into electrical signals, you get an image of, say, a fetus, or a submarine. But in the last few years, the lo-fi tech has reinvented itself in some weird new ways. From a report: Researchers are fitting people's heads with ultrasound-emitting helmets to treat tremors and Alzheimer's. They're using it to remotely activate cancer-fighting immune cells. Startups are designing swallowable capsules and ultrasonically vibrating enemas to shoot drugs into the bloodstream. One company is even using the shockwaves to heal wounds -- stuff Curie never could have even imagined. So how did this 100-year-old technology learn some new tricks? With the help of modern-day medical imaging, and lots and lots of bubbles.
Medicine

Vaping Can Be Addictive and May Lure Teenagers to Smoking, Science Panel Concludes (nytimes.com) 229

A national panel of public health experts concluded in a report released on Tuesday that vaping with e-cigarettes that contain nicotine can be addictive and that teenagers who use the devices may be put at higher risk of switching to traditional smoking. From a report: Whether teenage use of e-cigarettes may lead to conventional smoking has been intensely debated in the United States and elsewhere. While the industry argues that vaping is not a steppingstone to conventional cigarettes or addiction, some antismoking advocates contend that young people become hooked on nicotine, and are enticed to cancer-causing tobacco-based cigarettes over time. The new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is the most comprehensive analysis of existing research on e-cigarettes. It concluded the devices are safer than traditional smoking products and that they do help smokers quit, citing conclusive proof that switching can reduce smokers' exposure to deadly tar, numerous dangerous chemicals and other carcinogens.
China

China, Unhampered by Rules, Races Ahead in Gene-Editing Trials (wsj.com) 159

U.S. scientists helped devise the Crispr biotechnology tool. First to test it in humans are Chinese doctors (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative link). WSJ reports: In a hospital west of Shanghai, Wu Shixiu since March has been trying to treat cancer patients using a promising new gene-editing tool. U.S. scientists helped devise the tool, known as Crispr-Cas9, which has captured global attention since a 2012 report said it can be used to edit DNA. Doctors haven't been allowed to use it in human trials in America. That isn't the case for Dr. Wu and others in China. In a quirk of the globalized technology arena, Dr. Wu can forge ahead with the tool because he faces few regulatory hurdles to testing it on humans. [...] There is little doubt China was first out of the block testing Crispr on humans. Nine trials in China are listed in a U.S. National Library of Medicine database. The Wall Street Journal found at least two other hospital trials, including one beginning in 2015 -- a year earlier than previously reported. Journal reporting found at least 86 Chinese patients have had their genes edited.
Medicine

New Antifungal Provides Hope in the Fight Against Superbugs (sciencedaily.com) 33

dryriver shares news about the ongoing war against drug-resistant fungus. ScienceDaily reports: Microscopic yeast have been wreaking havoc in hospitals around the world -- creeping into catheters, ventilator tubes, and IV lines -- and causing deadly invasive infection. C. auris is particularly problematic because it loves hospitals, has developed resistance to a wide range of antifungals, and once it infects a patient doctors have limited treatment options.

But in a recent Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy study, researchers confirmed a new drug compound kills drug-resistant C. auris, both in the laboratory and in a mouse model that mimics human infection. The drug works through a novel mechanism. Unlike other antifungals that poke holes in yeast cell membranes or inhibit sterol synthesis, the new drug blocks how necessary proteins attach to the yeast cell wall. This means C. auris yeast can't grow properly and have a harder time forming drug-resistant communities that are a stubborn source of hospital outbreaks... The drug is first in a new class of antifungals, which could help stave off drug resistance.

Medicine

A Cheap and Easy Blood Test Could Catch Cancer Early (technologyreview.com) 55

A simple-to-take test that tells if you have a tumor lurking, and even where it is in your body, is a lot closer to reality -- and may cost only $500. From a report: The new test, developed at Johns Hopkins University, looks for signs of eight common types of cancer. It requires only a blood sample and may prove inexpensive enough for doctors to give during a routine physical. "The idea is this test would make its way into the public and we could set up screening centers," says Nickolas Papadopoulos, one of the Johns Hopkins researchers behind the test. "That's why it has to be cheap and noninvasive." Although the test isn't commercially available yet, it will be used to screen 50,000 retirement-age women with no history of cancer as part of a $50 million, five-year study with the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, a spokesperson with the insurer said. The test, detailed today in the journal Science, could be a major advance for "liquid biopsy" technology, which aims to detect cancer in the blood before a person feels sick or notices a lump. That's useful because early-stage cancer that hasn't spread can often be cured.
Printer

You Could Soon Be Manufacturing Your Own Drugs -- Thanks To 3D Printing (sciencemag.org) 97

sciencehabit shares a report from Science Magazine: Forget those long lines at the pharmacy: Someday soon, you might be making your own medicines at home. That's because researchers have tailored a 3D printer to synthesize pharmaceuticals and other chemicals from simple, widely available starting compounds fed into a series of water bottle -- size reactors. The work, they say, could digitize chemistry, allowing users to synthesize almost any compound anywhere in the world.

In today's issue of Science, Leroy Cronin, a chemist at the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom, and his colleagues report printing a series of interconnected reaction vessels that carry out four different chemical reactions involving 12 separate steps, from filtering to evaporating different solutions. By adding different reagents and solvents at the right times and in a precise order, they were able to convert simple, widely available starting compounds into a muscle relaxant called baclofen. And by designing reactionware to carry out different chemical reactions with different reagents, they produced other medicines, including an anticonvulsant and a drug to fight ulcers and acid reflux. So why not just buy a reactionware kit and scrap the printing? "This approach will allow the on-demand production of chemicals and drugs that are in short supply, hard to make at big facilities, and allow customization to tailor them to the application," Cronin says.

Medicine

Why You Shouldn't Stifle Your Sneeze (theguardian.com) 179

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: In a season where colds are rife, holding your nose and closing your mouth might seem like a considerate alternative to an explosive "Achoo!" But doctors have warned of the dangers of such a move after a man was found to have ruptured the back of his throat when attempting to stifle a sneeze. Medics say the incident, which they detail in the British Medical Journal Case Reports, came to light when a 34-year old man arrived in A&E with a change to his voice, a swollen neck, pain when swallowing and a popping sensation in his neck after he pinched his nose to contain an expulsion. The team took scans of the man's neck to investigate and discovered bubbles of air in the tissues at the back of the throat, and in the neck from the base of the skull to halfway down the man's back. That, they say, suggested a tear had occurred at the back of the throat as a result of increased pressure from the stifled sneeze, leading to air collecting in his soft tissues. The authors warn that blocking the nostrils and mouth when sneezing is dangerous, noting that while tearing of the throat tissue is rare, it could result in a ruptured eardrum or even a brain aneurysm.
Medicine

FDA Approves First Drug Aimed at Women With Inherited Breast Cancer (statnews.com) 33

U.S. regulators have approved the first drug aimed at women with advanced breast cancer caused by an inherited flawed gene. From a report: The Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved AstraZeneca PLC's Lynparza for patients with inherited BRCA gene mutations who have undergone chemotherapy. The drug has been on the market since 2014 for ovarian cancer, and is the first in a new class of medicines called PARP inhibitors to be approved for breast cancer. PARP inhibitors prevent cancer cells from fixing problems in their DNA. Lynparza will cost $13,886 per month without insurance, according to AstraZeneca. The company is offering patients financial assistance.
Medicine

Scientists Change Our Understanding of How Anaesthesia Messes With the Brain (sciencealert.com) 92

schwit1 shares a report from ScienceAlert: It's crazy to think that we still don't quite understand the mechanism behind one of the most common medical interventions -- general anaesthetic. But researchers in Australia just got a step closer by discovering that one of the most commonly used anesthetic drugs doesn't just put us to sleep; it also disrupts communication between brain cells. The team investigated the drug propofol, a super-popular option for surgeries worldwide. A potent sedative, the drug is thought to put us to sleep through its effect on the GABA neurotransmitter system, the main regulator of our sleep-and-wake cycles in the brain. But anyone who's been "put under" will know that waking up from a general anesthetic feels rather different from your usual morning grogginess. On top of that, some people can experience serious side-effects, so scientists have been trying to figure out what else the drugs might be doing in the brain.

Using live neuron cell samples from rats and fruit flies, the researchers were able to track neurotransmitter activity thanks to a super-resolution microscope, and discovered that propofol messes with a key protein that nerve cells use to communicate with each other. This protein, called syntaxin1A, isn't just found in animal models - people have it, too. And it looks like the anesthetic drug puts the brakes on this protein, making otherwise normal brain cell connections sluggish, at least for a while. The researchers think this disruption could be key to how propofol allows for pain-free surgery to take place - first it knocks us out as a normal sleeping pill would, and then takes things up a notch by disrupting brain connectivity.
The research has been published in Cell Reports.

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