Category: mental health

Magic Mushrooms “Reset” Key Brain Circuits in Depressed People

‘Shrooming Through Sadness

Psychedelics like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and psilocybin are popular for their use as party drugs, but less so for what researchers claim to be their therapeutic effects — which has been a major focus for a number of clinical trials in the last decade. Magic mushrooms, for example, have been the focus of some recent work that saw how it could help with treating some of the symptoms of clinical depression. For instance, a study from the U.S. last year showed how a single does of psilocybin can lift anxiety and depression felt by cancer patients.

Now, scientists from the Imperial College London have found how psilocybin, which is the active psychedelic compound that occurs naturally in magic mushrooms, can “reset” brain activity in patients suffering from depression. Their study, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports on Friday, highlights how psilocybin gave patients a “kick start” in fighting clinical depression.

psychadelics magic mushrooms psilocybin mental health
Image credit: Robin Carhart-Harris/Imperial College London

The researchers at Imperial gave two doses (10 mg and 25 mg) of psilocybin, with a week in between each dose, to 20 patients with a treatment-resistant form of depression. Immediately after receiving the doses, the patients said they felt a decrease in depressive symptoms, which MRI scans of their brains revealed to have been due to a reduce in blood flow to areas involved in handling emotional responses, stress, and fear.

Rebooting Through Depression with Magic Mushrooms

In short, the patients experienced a sort of reboot. “We have shown for the first time clear changes in brain activity in depressed people treated with psilocybin after failing to respond to conventional treatments,” Robin Carhart-Harris, head of Psychedelic Research — there’s such a thing — at Imperial, said in a press release. “Several of our patients described feeling ‘reset’ after the treatment and often used computer analogies. For example, one said he felt like his brain had been ‘defragged’ like a computer hard drive, and another said he felt ‘rebooted’.”

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It would seem that during the drug “trip,” brain networks went through an initial disintegration that was followed by a re-integration afterwards, when the patients “come down” from the psychedelic. “Psilocybin may be giving these individuals the temporary ‘kick start’ they need to break out of their depressive states and these imaging results do tentatively support a ‘reset’ analogy. Similar brain effects to these have been seen with electroconvulsive therapy,” Carhart-Harris added.

The researchers acknowledged, however, that while their study provides a new window into the brains of people who’ve taken psychedelics, the small number of patients tested and the absence of a control/placebo group limits the significance of their study. “Larger studies are needed to see if this positive effect can be reproduced in more patients,” said senior author David Nutt, director of the Neuropsychopharmacology unit of the Brain Sciences division at Imperial. “But these initial findings are exciting and provide another treatment avenue to explore.” The researchers also warned against self-medicating using such psychedelics.

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Scientists Just Used Brain Stimulation to Literally Change How People Think

Hitting the Right Lobes

A team of researchers from Boston University (BU) has explored the possibility of enhancing a person’s ability to learn and control their behavior — in short, to change how people think — by stimulating the brain. BU researcher Robert Reinhart used a new form of brain stimulation, called high-definition transcranial alternating current stimulation (HD-tACS), to “turbo charge” two brain regions that influence how we learn.

“If you make an error, this brain area fires. If I tell you that you make an error, it also fires. If something surprises you, it fires,” Reinhart said in a BU Research press release, referring to the medial frontal cortex, which he calls the “alarm bell of the brain.”

A scan of a brain involved in the study shows how brain stimulation lights up the medial frontal cortex and prefrontal cortex, both involved in how people learn.
The brain’s right hemisphere was more involved in changing behavior. Image credit: Robert Reinhart/Boston University

Reinhart and his colleagues found that stimulating this region, as well as the lateral prefrontal cortex, could change how a person learns. “These are maybe the two most fundamental brain areas involved with executive function and self-control,” he added.

In a study published in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Reinhart’s team described how applying electrical stimulation using HD-tACS quickly and reversibly increased or decreased a healthy person’s executive function, which led to a change in behavior.

Smart Charge

Reinhart’s team tested 30 healthy people, each wearing a soft cap with electrodes that conveyed the stimulation. The test was simple: each subject had to press a button every 1.7 seconds. In the first three rounds of tests, the researchers either cranked up the synchronicity between the two lobes, disrupted it, or did nothing.

The participants’ brain activity, monitored with an electroencephalogram (EEG), showed statistically significant results. When the brain waves were upped, the subjects learned faster and made fewer mistakes, which they corrected abruptly. When it was disrupted, they made more errors and learned more slowly. 

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What was even more surprising was when 30 new participants took an adjusted version of the test. This group started with their brain activity temporarily disrupted, but then received stimulation in the middle of the activity. The participants quickly recovered their original brain synchronicity levels and learning behavior. “We were shocked by the results and how quickly the effects of the stimulation could be reversed,” says Reinhart.

Although their study still leaves much to learn, the BU team was actually the first to identify and test how the millions of cells in the medial frontal cortex and the lateral prefrontal cortex communicate with each other through low frequency brain waves. “The science is much stronger, much more precise than what’s been done earlier,” said David Somers, a BU brain sciences and psychology professor who wasn’t part of the study.

The bigger question, Somers noted, is how far a person can go with such a technology. Who doesn’t want to have their brain performance enhanced? This could produce the same effects as nootropics or smart drugs, but with fewer potential side effects, as the brain is stimulated directly. Having access to such a technology could be a game changer — but just as with smart drugs, there’s the question of who should have access to such a technology.

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Scientists Discover Neuronal Effects of Psychedelic Drugs Using Human Minibrains

Parsing Out Psychedelics

New research using human minibrains has revealed that a hallucinogenic compound known as 5-MeO-DMT triggers changes in neuronal signaling pathways associated with inflammation, neural plasticity, and neurodegeneration. The discovery is critically important now, because various studies have found benefits from psychedelic use, but have been unable to parse out how and why these compounds have produced specific positive effects.

“For the first time we could describe psychedelic-related changes in the molecular functioning of human neural tissue,” Stevens Rehen, study leader and head of research at the D’Or Institute for Research and Educationsaid in a press release.

5-MeO-DMT. Image Credit: Harbin / Wikimedia Commons

Although past research had demonstrated that psychedelic substances, including ecstasy (Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) and LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide), may impart antidepressant and anti-inflammatory effects, scientists lacked the tools to prove why. The specific molecular pathways that psychedelics target in the brain had not been identified.

To solve this problem, the researchers in this study used cerebral organoids — 3D cultures of neural cells that resemble a human brain still in the developing stages.

Discerning Molecular Pathways

The team exposed these human minibrains to single doses of 5-MeO-DMT to identify which pathways the molecule might effect. The team found that the psychedelic drug changed the expression of almost 1,000 proteins. Next, they mapped out what roles these proteins played in the human brain.

The team discerned a clear pattern in their results. Exposure to the psychedelic downregulated proteins connected to brain lesion, degeneration, and inflammation. This hinted that the molecule and similar psychedelic substances may play a neuroprotective role in the human brain. At the same time, 5-MeO-DMT caused a upregulation of proteins critical to synaptic formation and maintenance, including proteins connected to cellular mechanisms for learning and memory

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“Results suggest that classic psychedelics are powerful inducers of neuroplasticity, a tool of psychobiological transformation that we know very little about,” Sidarta Ribeiro, study coauthor and director of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte Brain Institute, said in the press release. Professor and coauthor Draulio Araujo added, “The study suggests possible mechanisms by which these substances exert their antidepressant effects that we have been observing in our studies.”

In the U.S., these psychedelic substances remain heavily restricted, although new research may be changing minds. The FDA’s recent determination that ecstasy is a “breakthrough therapy” for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for example, may motivate lawmakers to dismantle some of the legal roadblocks to accessing these drugs.

This research should further this trend, as Rehen confirmed in the release: “Our study reinforces the hidden clinical potential of substances that are under legal restrictions, but which deserve attention of medical and scientific communities.”

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Researchers Are Trying to Use AI to Put an End to Hate Speech

Safeguarding Against Hate

In an ideal world, the best stopper for hate speech is an individual’s good sense of decency and propriety — in other words, a deep and profound respect of the human person, regardless of differences in opinion, race, or gender. However, we don’t live in an ideal world. As such, hate speech abounds, and the relatively free space social media offers us has given it a platform that’s equally destructive — or perhaps even more so.

Social networking sites have attempted to control the problem, but to little or no avail. While you can report hate speech, it’s just physically impossible to monitor every single offender, every stream of derogatory utterances posted in private conversations or public forums. Unless you’re not human — which is what researchers are trying to explore by using artificial intelligence (AI) to finally crack down on the problem of hate speech.

Haji Mohammad Saleem and his colleagues from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, developed an AI that learns how members of hateful communities speak. This is a different tactic than attempted by Google parent company Alphabet’s Jigsaw, focusing on certain key words or phrases resulting in a toxicity score. According to New Scientist, it didn’t work. The comment “you’re pretty smart for a girl” was marked 18% similar to what people considered toxic, while “i love Fuhrer” was marked 2% similar.

An AI Guard Dog

In a paper published online, Saleem and his team described how their AI works. Their machine learning algorithm was trained using data dumps of posts in the most active support and abuse groups in Reddit between 2006 and 2016, in addition to posts on other forums and websites. They focused on three groups that have often received abuse, online and otherwise: African Americans, people who are overweight, and women.

“We then propose an approach to detecting hateful speech that uses content produced by self-identifying hateful communities as training data,” the researchers wrote. “Our approach bypasses the expensive annotation process often required to train keyword systems and performs well across several established platforms, making substantial improvements over current state-of-the-art approaches.”

Types of AI: From Reactive to Self-Aware [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Their algorithm caught subtext which could easily be lost when one relies on just keywords, and resulted in fewer false-positives than the keyword method. “Comparing hateful and non-hateful communities to find the language that distinguishes them is a clever solution,” Cornell University professor Thomas Davidson told New Scientist. However, there are still limitations. The team’s AI was trained on Reddit posts and it may not be as effective on other social media websites. Furthermore, it also missed some obviously offensive speech which keyword-based AI would catch. That’s understandable, though. Stopping hate speech is as tricky as catching online terrorist propaganda.

Indeed, while AI may become better at catching online hate, it might not be able to do it alone. “Ultimately, hate speech is a subjective phenomenon that requires human judgment to identify,” Davidson added. Human decency may be something no AI can replace.

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AI and VR Could Completely Transform How Doctors Diagnose and Treat Mental Disorders

A Virtual Therapist

Advancements in deep learning, virtual reality (VR), and artificial intelligence (AI) may signal an end to issues engrained within the practice of clinical psychology — such as subjectivity and the difficulty of conducting large-scale studies — perhaps leading us into a new era of diagnosing and treating mental disorders.

This new branch of study is known as computational psychiatry. It operates on the tenet that researchers can better understand and treat mental illnesses using the aforementioned technologies. Application vary, but some researchers in the field apply mathematical theories of cognition to data mined from long-standing observations to effectively diagnose and predict cognition, while others use virtual experiments to enable the pure study of human behavior.

Understanding Machine Learning [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Sarah Fineburg of Yale University in New Haven recently published a study that used computational psychiatry to explore borderline personality disorder (BPD), a condition that the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports includes symptoms such as “ongoing instability in moods, behaviors, self-image, and functioning,” as well as “impulsive actions and unstable relationships.”

For her study, Fineburg observed the responses of people with BPD to events in virtual environments. She used a game called Cyberball in which avatars pass a ball to one another, with the patient in control of one avatar. Though they believe the remaining avatars are controlled by other people, their actions are actually determined by computer systems.

The game allowed Fineburg to monitor the patients’ emotional responses to the frequency with which they were passed the ball. She found that BPD sufferers experienced greater feelings of rejection than non-sufferers when they did not receive the ball, and they also experienced more negative feelings than non-sufferers even when they received the ball more often than the other avatars.

Not only can computational psychiatry be used to study the emotions of BPD patients, it can also help researchers understand their language use, which some have posited was different from that of non-sufferers. However, the data was previously too vast to analyze.“We and others have identified language features that mark psychological states and traits,” Fineberg told MIT Technology Review. “Computational models based on word-use patterns can predict which writers have psychosis or will progress to psychosis.”

An App for Depression

The two strands of computation psychiatry explored by Fineburg — using virtual environments as clinical spaces and using AI to find patterns in large swathes of data — are being used by other researchers to study other disorders.

The use of AI to diagnose disorders and recommend treatments has gained traction in the world of apps, which are acting as “virtual psychotherapists” to treat a variety of mental disorders.

A prime example is Woebot, a chatbot that uses cognitive behavioral therapy principles to help combat depression. The results from a small test of the app were promising, with the majority of users reporting a significant reduction in depression symptoms. Alison Darcy, a lecturer at Stanford who pioneered the app, told Business Insider, “The data blew us away. We were like, this is it.”

The app does have the potential to help people, but there are also some inherent problems with it. Due to the novelty of such systems, no one has yet studied whether or not psychiatric interactions with a computer over an extended period of time are beneficial for patients. Darcy’s study only had 70 total participants and lasted just two weeks, which is likely too short a time period to produce any certainty about the app’s impact.

Virtual environments seem to have fewer pitfalls when used for psychiatric studies. The whole idea of psychology is to study how a person’s perception colors empirical data, so if the senses are sufficiently fooled into believing a virtual scenario is “real,” the results of a VR supported study are just as valid as one conducted in the real world.

In fact, these environments give researchers the ability to learn more than they could from a traditional environment as the VR world can be modified in virtually limitless ways. This enables the study of events that may not be possible in the real world, which gives the researchers a more robust data pool and potentially more clarity on their patient’s cognition.

Indeed, virtual realities and digital environments have already demonstrated their ability to help researchers study and even treat mental disorders. VR can be used to help ex-soldiers overcome symptoms of PTSD, and it has also been shown to help people overcome depression by increasing their self-compassion.

Computational psychiatry could potentially help millions of people, but as with anything that involves the brain, we must careful in how we apply this technology. Without knowing precisely what effect these treatments can have on the mind, we set ourselves up to potentially do more harm than good.

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New Study Reveals a Group of Neurons Active in Anxious Brains

An Uncertain Bad Experience

Everyone worries sometimes, but about one in four adults in the U.S. suffer from anxiety disorder, a mental illness characterized by anxiety that interferes with their daily lives. New research from St. Louis’s Washington University School of Medicine provides insight into the workings of the anxious brain, revealing a group of neurons that becomes active when animals are faced with unpleasant events that are possible — but not certain.

“We found a population of neurons that activated specifically when monkeys thought something bad or annoying – like a puff of air to the face – might be coming, but not when they knew for certain it was,” study author and assistant professor of neuroscience and of biomedical engineering Ilya Monosov told MedicalXpress. “These neurons did not activate when the animals thought they might get something good, like a sip of sweet juice. Only an uncertain bad experience activated these cells.”

The team studied the anterior cingulate cortex, a region of the brain’s outer layer where its two hemispheres meet. The area plays a clear role in mental disorders like anxiety, attention deficit disorder, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Researchers have confirmed differences in the anterior cingulate cortex between healthy people and people with these mental disorders. However, he functions of cells associated with these brain differences, and their consequences, are not well-understood.

Cellular Roots Of Anxiety

For their study, the team trained the monkeys to respond not just to the uncertainty around when they would receive the unpleasant puff of air in their face, but to the certainty and uncertainty of possible rewards as well. They observed that possible rewards engaged an entirely different group of neurons.

This research opens up possibilities for studying the roots of anxiety, and could one day lead to new treatments. The findings from the study also help elucidate the cellular bases of complex mental processes. It appears that our brain’s response to uncertainty is rooted in our neurons.

“Now that we know which cells are active when an animal is faced with the uncertainty of a bad experience, we can try to disrupt the activity of these cells,” Monosov said to MedicalXpress. “It opens up avenues of research, which may one day lead to new ways to treat disorders such as anxiety and depression.”

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Therapy Is Proven To Improve Mental Health. Now, You Can Do It Anywhere.

Disclaimer: Futurism only supports products that we trust and use. This post is in partnership with BetterHelp, and Futurism may get a small percentage of sales. Get private, affordable online counseling here.

We Have A Problem Here

Over 42 million American adults suffer from some type of mental illness. That amounts to over 18 percent of the adult population in the country. And yet, despite the prevalence of mental health issues in society, a social stigma attached to therapy still lingers.

Of the people affected by mental illness, only half seek treatmentAccording to the CDC, the reason for this hesitation is clear: Only 25 percent of American’s suffering with mental illness have experienced sympathy and support from their communities.

Ultimately, individuals are ostracized and seen as being “weak” when they experience a mental health crisis, and this affects their decision to seek therapy. Or rather, their decision to not seek therapy.

Fortunately, the virtual couch is helping to close a gap between those that seek help for mental illness and those that do not. Cost efficient, accessible, flexible, and (most importantly) private, more and more people are turning to remote doctors for mental health support.

A New Kind of Help

Brain imaging studies by psychologists at UCLA have proven that talking about your feelings reduces the effects of pain, anger, and sadness—for those who may be hesitant to enter therapy, there are ways to get help without ever setting foot in an office.

The combination of the privacy of web counseling mixed with contemporary attitudes about web-based services is altering perceptions about therapy. And thanks to online therapy platforms like BetterHelp — a leader in the field — more and more people are experiencing the advantages of therapy without the traditional obstacles that come with it.

According to the APA, people suffering from mild to moderate depression, and who are not suicidal, are ideal candidates for online therapy. BetterHelp offers a variety of different web-based services that are perfect for the patient who is seeking this kind of support, or who is seeking support with major life changes, career or relationship issues, or who is just looking for new coping skills.

A study done by the Berkeley Well-Being Institute indicated that over 78 percent of patients who reported depressive symptoms before completing treatment with BetterHelp no longer reported the same issues after completing treatment. In a time when most people feel like they don’t have the time or resources to nurture their emotional health, there’s finally an answer.

Head to and try it for yourself. After answering a few survey questions, BetterHelp professionals will be able to match you with a mental health provider that’s best suited for you. And with over 1500 therapists in their network, you’re bound to find a good fit.

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You Have the Power to Physically Reshape Your Brain

Neuroplasticity is the idea that you can alter your brain in a physical and mental way by changing its stimuli — which can include environment, behavior, thought patterns or other parts of the body that have an impact on it. While this is a fairly old idea — the term and concept that the brain was not fixed post-puberty was first used in 1890 by William James in The Principles of Psychology — it is only due to the introduction of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that we can accurately quantify the effects of different stimuli. So, what are some of the ways we can mould our minds?

The Effects of Meditation

There have been many studies into the effect of meditation on mental well-being.

Combating mental illnesses as much as anti-depressants: a study by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health tested the effect of meditation on a variety of mental health issues and found that after eight weeks, it improved anxiety by 0.38, depression by 0.3, and pain by 0.33. While this is not a huge margin, it is as effective as anti-depressant drugs or exercise, which means that doctors have another tool in their arsenal, and can recommend an alternative treatment for those who cannot exercise and/or do not want to take drugs.

Increasing grey matter and combating aging: a study in Frontiers of Psychology shows that meditation can increase the volume of grey matter in the brain significantly. Florian Kurth, a University of California Postdoctoral Scholar in Neurology, one of the authors of the study, said, “We expected rather small and distinct effects […] what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.” This was enforced by Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who found that “in this one region of the prefrontal cortex, 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of grey matter as 25-year-olds.” In a world that researchers estimate will see 115 million people suffering from dementia by 2050, meditation could be a non-drug dependent treatment for those experiencing the disease.

Decreasing selfishness: a study carried out at Yale showed that activity in the Default Mode Network was decreased by meditation. The Default Mode Network is the part of the brain associated with mind-wandering and often leads to self-referential thoughts. It was “relatively deactivated” in experienced meditators, increasing their level of concentration, loving-kindness, and choiceless awareness through specific meditation methods. In a world that sometimes seems to be driven by selfishness, meditation may provide a way to remind ourselves of others.

Overcoming smoking addiction: a study by the Psychology Department at the University of Texas has found that “among smokers, 2 wk of meditation training (5 h in total) produced a significant reduction in smoking of 60%” and that it also had a positive impact on self-control. Millions of deaths a year are caused by smoking, and hundreds of dollars are spent on various treatments; meditation provides a free method that could save both lives and money.

What Does Exercise Do for You?

Regular aerobic exercise (the exercise that gets you sweaty with an elevated heart rate) has been shown to increase the size of the hippocampus — the area of the brain associated with verbal memory and learning. While it has been known that exercise has positive mental effects, a study at the University of British Columbia (UBC) is one of the first that has shown that “regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions” says Dr. Scott McGinnis, a practicing neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and neurology instructor at Harvard Medical School. Not all exercise will work though — the study specifies that “resistance training, balance and muscle toning exercises did not have the same results.”

Exercise benefits the brain in many ways. It stimulates growth factors, which are chemicals in the brain that are connected to brain cells’ health, growing new blood vessels, and creating new brain cells It improves mood and sleep patterns along with helping with anxiety and stress reduction (all these areas affect your cognitive power). The best part of the UBC study is that it focused on one of the easiest methods of exercise: walking. Those who participated in the study saw results from going for a brisk, hour-long walk twice a week. It’s recommended that you get 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, which is less daunting if you consider that’s only 21 minutes a day.

Exercising your body will exercise your brain too — it’s a win-win.

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Facebook’s Artificial Intelligence Can Now Identify Suicidal Behavior

Facebook has gradually grown from supposed social media fad to an everyday essential that has amassed a monthly base of 1.86 million users. The ever-scaling operation frequently pushes out new features to keep users interested, and at the moment, its flagship project is Facebook Live, a service that lets users broadcast real-time videos to their followers. While it has found favor with professionals and laymen alike, it has also become an unfortunate platform for live suicides.

*4* Facebook’s AI Software Can Identify At-Risk Users for Help

Noting that live suicides had occurred on similar platforms before, Facebook has been working to develop a pattern-recognizing algorithm that could check for signs even before the tragic incident occurred.

Now, when suicide-like behavior is detected, Facebook will provide the at-risk user with resources that range from the ability to contact a friend or helpline to a few potentially helpful tips for dealing with depression without halting their stream. On the other end, viewers can flag broadcasts that they think demonstrate at-risk behavior while also receiving guidance from Facebook on how to proceed.

While the system is rolling out worldwide, the option of contacting a crisis counselor helpline via Facebook Messenger will be available in the U.S. only.

Image Credit: Facebook

Skeptics may argue that a message from Facebook might not be as effective as immediately involving a friend. However, Vanessa Callison-Burch, a Facebook product manager, told BBC that the social media company is hoping to avoid invading anyone’s privacy or tampering with personal dynamics between friends. They acknowledge how critical a fast response time is, so as soon as the system identifies an at-risk user, a community operation’s team rapidly reviews the case.

The U.S. alone averages one suicide every 13 minutes, and it is the country’s tenth leading cause of death. While Facebook’s system is still new, it is reassuring to see that the social media company is dedicated to protecting its users from adding to this troubling statistic.

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The World’s Best Doctors Aren’t Earning PHDs — They’re Being Programmed

The AI Will See You Now

Doctors spend years acquiring knowledge in various medical fields so that patients can feel confident that they are receiving the right diagnosis. The effectiveness of the patient’s treatment depends on how well the doctor is able to recognize and identify the symptoms of various ailments, and receiving the best treatment possible is largely dependent on the physician’s competence in their particular field.

Clearly, the expertise of physicians is the very cornerstone of our healthcare system. But being human, doctors are prone to human error, and in healthcare, these oversights, no matter how minor, can be the difference between life or death. That’s what makes artificial intelligence’s (AI) entry into the healthcare industry game changing.

The arrival of AI means healthcare expertise is no longer under the exclusive purview of medical practitioners. As the technology advances, AI is proving to be more than just a peripheral tool that can provide assistance — a machine’s ability to process enormous amounts of data using advanced learning technology allows it to deliver speedier and more accurate diagnosis and treatment plans, which could drastically alter the standards of modern healthcare.

For example, in a recent study involving 34 participants, machine-learning algorithms were used to predict the development of psychosis based on coherence and syntactic markers of speech complexity. In that study, the AI was able to predict the outcome with 100 percent accuracy, outperforming the results of traditional clinical interviews.

In a separate research project, an AI system was able to identify and categorize suicidal tendencies among a pool of 379 teenage subjects with 93 percent accuracy. In that study, patients were asked to complete a standardized behavioral rating scale and then answer a series of open-ended questions. Based on the verbal and non-verbal data gathered, a machine-learning algorithm was able to classify if a patient was suicidal, mentally ill but not suicidal, or neither.

According to research leader John Pestian, a professor at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, “These computational approaches provide novel opportunities to apply technological innovations in suicide care and prevention, and it surely is needed.”

Image Credit: IBM/Wikimedia Commons

Looking to the Future

Granted, the use of AI in healthcare is still in its early stages, but it won’t be long before we start reaping the full benefits of its potential. In fact, several technology companies have already started extending their influence on the healthcare industry.

Google has ventured into the industry with DeepMind Health in an effort to “support clinicians by providing the technical expertise needed to build and scale technologies that help the provide the best possible care to their patients.” In the field of cancer research, visual computing tech company NVIDIA is working with the National Cancer Institute in the hopes of advancing research by building an AI framework called Cancer Distributed Learning Environment (CANDLE). IBM’s Watson AI was able to accurately recommend the same treatment as doctors in 99 percent of cancer cases, and because Watson is capable of analyzing huge amounts of data in minutes, the system was also able to provide treatment options that human oncologists missed in 30 percent of the cases.

These studies give us a just glimpse at what AI can do for the healthcare industry. By delivering unprecedented levels of convenience, efficiency, and insight, this technology could no doubt lead to an age of better healthcare and improved life expectancy.

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