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Artificial intelligence could diagnose rare disorders using just a photo of a face

Jan 8, 2019

By Frankie Schembri

Rare disorders often show up in someone’s appearance. Individuals with Noonan syndrome—a genetic condition that inhibits the body’s growth and development—can have wide-set eyes, for example, and those with Bain type intellectual disability—caused by a mutated gene on the X chromosome—sport almond-shaped eyes and small chins (see above). Now, researchers have trained artificial intelligence to recognize these features, paving the way for early—and cheap—diagnoses.

Scientists built a computer program, DeepGestalt, and trained it on a publicly available data set of more than 17,000 photos of patients affected by more than 200 rare disorders. The program then used deep learning to recognize which patterns of markers were linked to hundreds of different genetic syndromes.

In a test with 502 new images, DeepGestalt successfully placed the correct syndrome in its top 10 list 91% of the time, the researchers report today in Nature Medicine. The program also outperformed doctors in spotting patients with Angelman syndrome and Cornelia de Lange syndrome—an inherited genetic mutation that can cause, among other symptoms, low-set ears and an upturned nose—versus other disorders, and in separating patients with different genetic subtypes of Noonan syndrome.

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