Czechs develop AI to detect risk of Parkinson’s disease via ultrasound

Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative brain disorder that leads to tremors, stiffness, and difficulty maintaining one’s balance, often goes undiagnosed in the early stages. A Czech neurologist is working with IT specialists to develop artificial intelligence to make it easy for GPs to detect its presence via ultrasound images.

David Školoudík, vice-dean for science and research at the University of Ostrava, is a specialist in Parkinson’s disease as well as Alzheimer’s disease, a type of dementia that affects memory, thinking and behaviour.

The neurologist’s trained eye can detect signs of possible brain disorders using an ultrasound. For well over a year now, Prof. Školoudík has been working with IT specialists to develop software that can allow general practitioners, for example, to reliably do the same.

“Suitable candidates for this type of examination include relatives of patients who have Parkinson’s disease or exhibit its symptoms. We are able to determine if they are at greater risk of developing the disease in the future.”

In a healthy person, an ultrasound of the brain appears uniformly dark. The diagnostic method of Prof. Školoudík, being put into practice by the Olomouc-based company Tesco SW, detects many more subtle variations of grey than can even the trained naked eye.

Called Cereb B-Mode Assist, the program enables comparisons of echogenicities of any predefined area of the brain, whether of patients with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s or heathy subjects. It also tracks any changes in patients, explains Marek Vaculík, the project leader at Tesco SW.

“In a standard view, the image is dark throughout. This means that the wave passes through a homogeneous environment and is not ‘stopped’ by anything. If any non-standard tissue appears in the structure, the wave bounces back to the probe and appears in the image as a brighter area.”

Illustrative photo: Garpenholm,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0

Such artificial intelligence is a significant tool for physicians and should also help make preventive examinations more accessible, since all the doctor has to do is upload the ultrasound to a computer application and select the area to focus on, says Prof. Školoudík.

“There are only a few dozen experts around the world who can see it with the naked eye, and it that takes many years of training. Thanks to this program, the examination will become commonly available and one does not have to be an expert, because the program will do it for him.”

If the Cereb B-Mode Assist program – which may be in commercial use within a few years – detects a deviation from normal values, doctors must still perform further tests. No matter how advanced the artificial intelligence, says Prof. Školoudík, an ultrasound alone is inconclusive.