AI May Be Better at Identifying Skin Cancer Than Human Doctors

iStock
iStock

Screening for skin cancer is an imperfect science, but an international team of scientists believes AI can help boost the test's accuracy. As they report in a study published in the Annals of Oncology, a machine-learning program known as a deep learning convolutional neural network (CNN) can be trained to recognize skin cancer with a greater success rate than professional dermatologists.

Researchers taught the CNN to identify skin cancer by showing it more than 100,000 images of malignant melanomas and benign moles. "The CNN works like the brain of a child," co-author Holger Haenssle, senior managing physician at the University of Heidelberg, said in a statement. That means the more information it's given about a certain task, the more it can learn and fine-tune its performance.

After training the AI with a database of images, the researchers showed it a different set of images it had never seen before. The CNN correctly diagnosed skin cancer from images alone 95 percent of the time. When 58 dermatologists were given the same task, the were able to catch only 86.6 percent of the malignant melanomas. The CNN was also less likely to misdiagnose a benign mole as cancerous.

The results don't necessarily mean that AI robots will be replacing flesh-and-blood doctors (or even pigeons) for cancer screenings in the near future. Rather, the researchers see the program acting as a supplement to dermatologists in the clinic, perhaps by evaluating images already stored in the doctors' databases and generating "expert opinions" on the likelihood of cancer.

Even as a doctor's aid, the CNN in its current state leaves room for improvement: The images it looked at were mostly of white patients that didn't include the full range of skin lesions. Diagnosing melanomas that show up on fingers, toes, and scalps also presents a challenge when working with an image-based system. Nonetheless, the researchers are confident that these issues won't stop AI from playing a role in future cancer screenings. "Given exponential development of imaging technology, we envisage that sooner than later, automated diagnosis will change the diagnostic paradigm in dermatology," researchers said. 

Pioneering Heart Surgeon René Favaloro Is Being Honored With a Google Doodle

Dr. René Favaloro (left) pictured with colleague Dr. Mason Sones.
Dr. René Favaloro (left) pictured with colleague Dr. Mason Sones.
The Cleveland Clinic Center for Medical Art & Photography, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Argentinian heart surgeon René Favaloro is the subject of today’s Google Doodle, which features a sketched portrait of the doctor along with an anatomical heart and several medical tools, The Independent reports.

The renowned doctor was born on this day in 1923 in La Plata, the capital of Argentina’s Buenos Aires province, and pursued a degree in medicine at La Plata University. After 12 years as a doctor in La Pampa, where he established the area’s first mobile blood bank, trained nurses, and built his own operating room, Favaloro relocated to the U.S. to specialize in thoracic surgery at the Cleveland Clinic.

In 1967, Favaloro performed coronary bypass surgery on a 51-year-old woman whose right coronary artery was blocked, restricting blood flow to her heart. Coronary bypass surgery involves taking a healthy vein from elsewhere in the body (in this case, Favaloro borrowed from the patient’s leg, but you can also use a vein from the arm or chest), and using it to channel the blood from the artery to the heart, bypassing the blockage. According to the Mayo Clinic, it doesn’t cure whatever heart disease that caused the blocked artery, but it can relieve symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath, and it gives patients time to make other lifestyle changes to further manage their disease.

Favaloro wasn’t keen on being called the “father” of coronary bypass surgery, but his work brought the procedure to the forefront of the clinical field. He moved back to Argentina in 1971 and launched the Favaloro Foundation to train surgeons and treat a variety of patients from diverse economic backgrounds.

Favaloro died by suicide on July 29, 2000, at the age of 77, by a gunshot wound to the chest. His wife had died several years prior, and his foundation had fallen deeply into debt, which Argentinian hospitals and medical centers declined to help pay, The New York Times reported at the time.

“As a surgeon, Dr. Favaloro will be remembered for his ingenuity and imagination,” his colleague Dr. Denton A. Cooley wrote in a tribute shortly after Favaloro’s death. “But as a man ... he will be remembered for his compassion and selflessness.” Today would have been his 96th birthday.

[h/t The Independent]

The FDA Is Recalling Medtronic Insulin Pumps Over Hacking Concerns

Medtronic
Medtronic

People who manage their type 1 or type 2 diabetes with insulin pumps should take note of a recent Food and Drug Administration announcement. According to the FDA, certain models of the Medtronic MiniMed pumps that allow users to connect to the device wirelessly could be vulnerable to hackers.

In a release, the FDA said that cybersecurity breaches could leave the Medtronic MiniMed exposed to hacking. The unit has wireless capability to exchange information with blood glucose meters, glucose monitoring systems, and the remote controller and CareLink USB device that can be attached to a computer to control the MiniMed’s settings. Because of that connectivity, it’s possible for a hacker to gain access to the pump, increasing insulin delivery and prompting a hypoglycemic event. The hacker could also halt insulin delivery, leading to high blood sugar and diabetic ketoacidosis (a buildup of acids called ketones in the blood). If left untreated, these conditions can lead to serious health issues and can even be fatal.

Insulin pumps control blood glucose levels by delivering insulin to a patient via a catheter placed under the skin. Their use avoids the need for insulin injections and can be indicated in patients who need more tailored monitoring.

There have been no reports of any adverse events as a result of this vulnerability, but the FDA is still recommending patients replace certain Medtronic MiniMed models, including the MiniMed 508 and the MiniMed Paradigm series. A full list of affected models can be found here. (The Medtronic MiniMed 530G, shown above, is not part of the recall.) Medtronic believes the recall applies to about 4000 patients using the devices. The company is recommending that those affected by the flaw speak with their health care provider about getting a replacement with increased cybersecurity protection.

[h/t Fast Company]

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