Tuberculosis or covid? AI-based apps analyze cough, breath and voice

In Germany, the number of tuberculosis cases has been declining for years – and thanks to vaccinations. Fewer than 4,000 cases have been reported in 2021. The situation in other countries is different: in 2022, all over the world 1.2 million people died of tuberculosisIt is the second deadliest infectious disease after Covid-19.


Researchers have now developed a smartphone app that can distinguish tuberculosis from other diseases based on the sound of a patient's cough. This procedure is simpler and much cheaper than sputum sampling to detect disease-causing bacteria. Therefore, it may prove to be a screening tool, especially in low-income countries.

In The study is published in the journal “Science Advances.” A team of researchers from the United States and Kenya trained and tested their smartphone-based diagnostic tool using cough records collected at a health center in Kenya: 33,000 spontaneous cough attacks and 1,200 forced cough attacks in 149 cases of tuberculosis and 46 cases of other respiratory infections. diseases. The app's performance isn't enough to immediately replace conventional diagnoses — because the app still fails to detect the disease in 30 percent of TB patients. But it can be used as an additional screening tool. If people with active TB are diagnosed and treated early, they are less likely to spread the disease.

A new study Dozens, which have emerged in recent years, aim to use coughs and other body sounds as “acoustic biomes,” sounds that indicate changes in health. The concept has been around for at least three decades, but the field has evolved significantly in the last five years. Yael Bensoussan, a laryngologist at the University of South Florida, says artificial intelligence is increasingly being used to quickly analyze large amounts of data.

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The coronavirus pandemic alone has spawned 30 or 40 start-ups dealing with cough acoustics, says Benchausen. AudibleHealthAI Founded in 2020 and developed an app to detect covid. A software called AudibleHealth DX is currently under review by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Now the company is expanding its offerings to include flu and tuberculosis.

Australian company ResApp Health It has been working on the acoustic diagnosis of respiratory diseases since 2014, long before the pandemic. But when Covid-19 emerged, the company pioneered and developed an audio-based Covid-19 screening test. In 2022, the company reported that the device correctly identified 92 percent of positive Covid cases based on the sound of a patient's cough. Shortly thereafter, Pfizer paid $179 million to acquire ResApp.

German start-up Audiring's approach aims for similar audio-based Covid-19 screening. In association with Augsburg University The company collects voice recordings from healthy and diseased test subjectsTo train your AI SoundLab. According to its own information, Audiring analyzes 6,000 parameters of the human voice, which are affected by respiratory diseases. The app is said to detect Covid-19 based on voice with 82 percent accuracy.

Benzesson is skeptical that such apps will evolve into reliable diagnostics. But apps that detect coughs — any cough — can prove valuable health monitors, even if they can't pinpoint the cause, he says. Recording coughs with a smartphone is very easy. “Almost everyone can monitor their cough using a smartphone at their bedside or in their pocket,” said Jamie Rogers, product manager at Google Health. told Time magazine. Google's latest Pixel smartphones already include cough and snoring detection.

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Yael Bensoussan believes that cough detection apps will be especially important for clinical studies, in which researchers want to measure cough. Until now, doctors have mostly relied on patients' memories of their coughs. An app can be more precise: “From a technical point of view it's very easy to record the frequency of coughing,” he says.

And it's not just a cough that can provide clues about our health. Benchausen is leading the $14 million project Development of a comprehensive database Voice, cough and breathing sounds help develop tools to diagnose cancer, respiratory diseases, neurological and mood disorders, speech disorders and more. The database captures various sounds, including coughing, reading sentences or vowel sounds, inhalation and exhalation.

“One of the big limitations is that many of these studies have confidential individual data sets,” Benchausen says. This makes it difficult to verify research results. The database she and her colleagues are building will be publicly accessible. He expects the first data to be published before June. As more data becomes available, there will be more apps that can alert you to health problems using cough or speech patterns. It's worth keeping your ears open.


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