Science

AI can diagnose Osteoarthritis by analysing cartilage texture 3 years before it starts wearing away


AI can diagnose Osteoarthritis by analysing cartilage texture three years BEFORE it starts wearing away and causing joint pain, study shows

  • An artificial intelligence model was trained to look for signs of Osteoarthritis 
  • It does so by examining cartilage texture maps and comparing to other results
  • The technique detects early stages of the condition with 78 per cent accuracy 
  • The condition is particularly common in people over the age of 65 and women
  • Detecting it early it is possible to make the condition less severe or delay onset

AI can be used to to determine whether someone will develop Osteoarthritis by analysing cartilage texture three years before it starts wearing away, study found.

Researchers from John Hopkins Hospital and others ran an artificial intelligence model over scans of 86 people with no discernible symptoms of osteoarthritis.

The machine learning model was about to detect the beginning stages of the condition with 78 per cent accuracy up to three years before symptom onset.

In the UK about 8.5 million people have Osteoarthritis, a condition which causes joints to become painful and stiff – particularly in people over the age of 65.

If the condition can be detected early a combination of weight loss and exercise could make Osteoarthritis less severe when it happens – or even delay onset. 

Researchers from John Hopkins Hospital and others ran an artificial intelligence model over scans of 86 people with no discernible symptoms of Osteoarthritis. Stock image

Researchers from John Hopkins Hospital and others ran an artificial intelligence model over scans of 86 people with no discernible symptoms of Osteoarthritis. Stock image

A number of diseases – including Osteoarthritis – lack any visual cues in the early stages which elude image-based detection such as x-ray or MRI.

When it comes to Osteoarthritis, by the time it is diagnosed it is already at an irreversible stage – well after bone damage has already been caused.  

Current treatment focuses on palliative care or invasive and costly surgery and combined with other musculoskeletal conditions cost the NHS £10.2 billion per year. 

As osteoarthritis primarily affects older people and the population is getting older, it is thought that figure could rise to over £118 billion in the next decade, the NHS said. 

Even after symptoms have started and irreversible bone damage has set in, it is still difficult to use medical imaging to correlate pain symptoms to disease progression.

There is some evidence that the condition could be reversible in future – with the right therapies and treatments, the researchers claim.

Early biochemical changes that occur in cartilage often seem to precede pain and bone damage symptoms by several years. This model looks for those changes.

‘In the future, our approach may enable more accurate image-based assessments of early disease development,’ the team said, adding it could also improve the ability to track the condition as it develops.

The new technique developed by the US researchers will allow doctors to spot signs of the condition developing before it becomes irreversible. 

They use artificial intelligence to hunt for patterns in MRI scan images and could even allow for the automated discovery of future damage in cartilage maps.

‘Future symptomatic osteoarthritis could potentially be predicted up to three years prior to the current gold standard diagnosis,’ the study authors wrote.

They assessed the cartilage in healthy people using their technique and designed a diagnostic system that appears to be able to predict early-stage osteoarthritis. 

There are limitations to the current research – it was based on a limited pool of 86 subjects and a machine learning model benefits from as large of a pool as possible.

‘With increasing sample size, machine-learning techniques become more robust to variations that may exist within a population,’ the team explained. 

AI can be used to to determine whether someone will develop Osteoarthritis by analysing cartilage texture three years before it starts wearing away, study found. Stock image

AI can be used to to determine whether someone will develop Osteoarthritis by analysing cartilage texture three years before it starts wearing away, study found. Stock image

As there is currently no reliable method to detect pre-symptomatic osteoarthritis at the potentially reversible early stages, this could be a vital step forward.

Spotting it before it starts to damage the joints, the team say future therapies could be developed that may even prevent the disease from taking hold. 

More research is needed before this technique could be used in a clinical setting, including a larger study to test the AI model – a larger sample size will see if it spots unusual variations.

Researchers also want to do tests that compare actual cartilage chemical conditions to the model predictions to ensure they are accurate. 

The method they’ve developed may even be able to be adapted to detect early stages of other conditions such as cancers, retinopathy and dementia. 

The findings have been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

OSTEOARTHRITIS: A CONDITION THAT OCCURS WHEN JOINT SURFACES BECOME DAMAGED

Osteoarthritis – sometimes called ‘wear and tear’ – is a condition that occurs when the surfaces within joints become damaged.

Osteoarthritis - sometimes called 'wear and tear' - is a condition that occurs when the surfaces within joints become damaged

Osteoarthritis – sometimes called ‘wear and tear’ – is a condition that occurs when the surfaces within joints become damaged

Cartilage covering the ends of bones gradually thin over time, and the bone thickens, according to Versus Arthritis

Around a third of people aged 45 years and over in the UK suffer from the condition. This equates to roughly 8.75 million people. 

At least 20 million are known to suffer in the US.

The severity of symtoms can vary greatly from person to person and between different affected joints, according to the NHS. 

Almost any joint can be affected by osteoarthritis but more often causes problems int he knees, hips and small joints of the hands.  

The exact cause of the condition is not known but a number of things can increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis.

These include: 

  • Joint injury – overusing a joint if it hasn’t had time to heal

  • Other conditions – rheumatoid arthritis and gout can increase risk

  • Age – the risk of developing the condition increases with age

  • Family history – it may run in families but not single gene has been found

  • Obesity – being obese puts a strain on joints such as knees and hips

  • Being a woman – the condition is more common in women than men  

It is different to rheumatoid arthritis, a long-term illness in which the immune system causes the body to attack itself, causing painful, swollen and stiff joints. 

Replacement joints are often necessary for osteoarthritis patients, because the joint has been worn down and causes agonising pain.

 





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