Brain Scans Now Identifies Suicidal Feelings

Brain Scans Now Identifies Suicidal Feelings

AI has revolutionized healthcare over the recent past. It has successfully been able to detect cancerous cells in the human body and is now also capable of determining suicidal feelings among humans.

According to a study published on October 30, 2017, in the journal Nature, researchers attempted to study brain waves of individuals undergoing suicidal thoughts through an experiment that included two groups of adults.

A total of 34 volunteers participated in this study— 17 with suicidal thoughts and 17 without. The participants were made to read a list of 30 words that were either positive such as bliss or praise, negative such as cruelty or evil, or related to death such as suicide. They underwent an fMRI brain scan and were simultaneously asked to think about the meaning of these words.

The obtained data was then fed onto an algorithm that picked up brain patterns of individuals in relation with the words thought about. The algorithm, on learning these patterns, was able to predict who had suicidal thoughts, with 91 percent accuracy. Over time, the algorithm was able to predict with 94 percent accuracy, whether or not an individual had attempted suicide in the past.

The scientists conducting the study explained that when we think about a subject, our neurons fire up in a specific way. The patterns created by this firing differ from person- to- person and are different for each word that we lay emphasis on. For instance, neurons might fire in one pattern for the word “hammer” and in a different pattern for the word “dog”.

The author of the study, Marcel Just, said that measuring these patterns are more accurate than brain studies than only observe the general brain region being activated.

It is evident that scientists have studied the relation between suicide and its biological basis. An AI being able to track down the biology of the brain with regards to suicide can create more hope for future diagnosis, in turn being able to save numerous vulnerable lives. However, the accuracy of such a diagnosis, if made applicable in clinical settings yet seems to be questionable.

Blake Richards, a neuroscientist from the University of Toronto says “There is undoubtedly a biological basis for whether someone is going to commit suicide, there’s a biological basis for every aspect of our mental lives, but the question is whether the biological basis for these things are sufficiently accessible by fMRI to really develop a reliable test that you could use in a clinical setting. The accuracy of the results may be high, but in order for the program to be useful in a clinical setting, and to justify any type of medical intervention, it would need to be basically perfect.”

Marcel realizes the limitation of the algorithm, as it has only been tested on a small group of individuals and needs further research to develop the AI to tackle diagnosis of psychiatric disorders, as envisioned.

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