It is hoped the new technology can relieve pressure on health systems. PHOTO: COURTESY/ UWS

'Game-changing' AI technology can detect Covid-19 in minutes

Despite new research, experts insist PCR tests unlikely to be replaced entirely

News Desk January 21, 2022

A group of scientists in Scotland has found a way to detect the presence of Covid-19 infection in a person using X-rays. The diagnosis test uses artificial intelligence (AI) to predict the presence of the virus inside human body.

The scientists from the University of West Scotland (UWS), who developed the test, claimed it is 98 per cent effective. "The groundbreaking programme is able to detect the virus far more quickly than a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which typically takes around two hours," a statement from the university said.

It is hoped that the technology can eventually be used to help relieve strain on hard-pressed emergency departments, particularly in countries where PCR tests are not readily available.

Read more: How dangerous is Omicron?

The statement said that the state-of-the-art technique utilises x-ray technology, comparing scans to a database of around 3,000 images, belonging to patients with Covid-19, healthy individuals and people with viral pneumonia.

It then uses an AI process known as "deep convolutional neural network", an algorithm typically used to analyse visual imagery, to make a diagnosis. During an extensive testing phase, the technique proved to be more than 98% accurate.

Professor Naeem Ramzan, Director of the Affective and Human Computing for SMART Environments Research Centre at UWS, led the three-person team behind the project, which also involved Gabriel Okolo and Dr Stamos Katsigiannis.

“There has long been a need for a quick and reliable tool that can detect Covid-19, and this has become even more true with the upswing of the Omicron variant," he said.

“Several countries are unable to carry out large numbers of Covid tests because of limited diagnosis tools, but this technique utilises easily accessible technology to quickly detect the virus."

Also read: Omicron pushing Covid out of pandemic phase: EU agency

Prof Naeem said that Covid-19 symptoms are not visible in x-rays during the early stages of infection, so it is important to note that the technology cannot fully replace PCR tests.

"It can still play an important role in curtailing the viruses spread especially when PCR tests are not readily available," he added.

“It could prove to be crucial, and potentially life-saving, when diagnosing severe cases of the virus, helping determine what treatment may be required.”

The team now plans to expand the study, incorporating a greater database of x-ray images acquired by different models of x-ray machines, to evaluate the suitability of the approach in a clinical setting.



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