N.C. Start-up Making Strides Against Alzheimer’s With Artificial Intelligence

Alzheimer’s is a complicated and devastating disease that does not have a one-size-fits-all treatment. But the use of artificial intelligence may be able to help develop treatment plans for Alzheimer’s patients. A new Raleigh start-up has built a system to combine the latest field research with patient data to help determine the contributing factors of cognitive decline.

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The News & Observer reports that Raleigh start-up uMethod Health has developed a system that takes into account a patient’s genetics, demographics, bloodwork, medical history and lifestyle in order to assist doctors in building a working treatment plan.

“What the researchers are coming to the conclusion on is that the traditional way of trying to address Alzheimer’s just does not work,” said CEO Vik Chandra, a N.C. State University alumnus and former IBM executive with multiple business start-ups to his credit. “The disease is just too complicated to address through a single treatment.”

Using an AI-based system to collect data and offer advice on the treatment of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease can help provide a more comprehensive and personalized treatment plan that uses the most updated scientific information.

The News & Observer shares:

“UMethod’s system has been under development for five years and the company has been working with patients for the last three. The system is now in the hands of about 100 care groups across the country.

‘This is commercially available at this point in time, and we’re working to scale the commercial availability,’ Chandra said, adding that while the system isn’t regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, it does qualify for Medicare reimbursement.

The idea of applying artificial intelligence, machine-learning systems specifically, to health care isn’t new. Nor is the idea that such a system can help doctors come up with a diagnosis or treatment plan. IBM has gotten a lot of publicity, good and bad, for its attempts to find uses and a market for its Watson AI platform in oncology, for example.

For the moment, Chandra and Walker think uMethod’s system is currently the only one like it in the Alzheimer’s arena. It’s of enough interest to researchers that the company has been able to present findings in each of the past three years at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. The most recent just concluded in Chicago.”

The start-up now wants to expand the number of clinics that use their system.

“UMethod’s system is particularly useful in in rooting out drug interactions that can contribute to depression and other problems that make things worse for patients.

The ultimate test of a treatment plan is how well patients do on the common tests doctors use on people over age 65 to see whether their cognition is declining, holding steady or improving, he said.

UMethod also has to make sure it’s ‘able to explain [to doctors] why our system is recommending something,’ Chandra said, underscoring that an AI system is there to help physicians, not supplant them.

Conceptually, the use of an intelligent-adviser system to help develop treatment plans makes sense and should be able to help if it can process all the relevant data and risk factors, said Todd Cohen, a UNC-CH researcher who specializes in neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and ALS.”

Cohen cautioned that the data must be used in a systematic way.

“To me, the major question is how we’re going to get all that information from people” and do so in a consistent, reliable fashion, Cohen said.

“Making sure data-gathering practices are consistent from clinic to clinic is a problem, he said.

‘This is a very common problem, how do you establish criteria for consistency with different materials, different handlers, different clinicians and different environments,’ Cohen said. ‘The point is to have one common set of rules you can make predictions on.’”

While all concerns must be taken into account, AI continues to advance healthcare options across the nation. It is promising to see new innovations happening in North Carolina regarding both the healthcare industry and new ways of treating disease through artificial intelligence.

For more on this story, visit The News & Observer.

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