Brainstorm Health: A.I. Lung Cancer Detection, Facebook Disease Prevention, Doctor Job Market

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Happy Monday, readers! I hope you enjoyed your weekend.

The machines just aced a major test in the world of cancer detection.

A joint collaboration between Google A.I. scientists and medical institutions such as Northwestern Medicine, Stanford Health Care and Palo Alto Veterans Affairs, and the NYU-Langone Medical Center found that neural networks and deep machine learning algorithms were just as good as (if not better than) doctors in detecting early stage lung cancers in CT scans.

The research published in the journal Nature is the latest example of A.I.’s potential in the field of radiology, where other studies have also shown that programs informed by massive data sets and neural networks can be a potent primary or secondary opinion to help the doctors charged with reading our medical scans.

According to the study, the algorithm was able to keep pace with doctors when there were available CT scans on hand – and outpace them when they weren’t. “When prior computed tomography imaging was not available, our model outperformed all six radiologists with absolute reductions of 11% in false positives and 5% in false negatives,” the wrote. “Where prior computed tomography imaging was available, the model performance was on-par with the same radiologists.”

Given lung cancer’s status as one of the deadliest around (the disease caused 160,000 American deaths in 2018 alone, making it the most fatal cancer), some firms have focused their efforts on catching it at the earliest possible stage. If study results such as these hold true, our software physician partners could play an important role in such detection.

Read on for the day’s news.


Facebook wants to map out new disease prevention. Facebook, perhaps feeling a pang of guilt or two over social media's role in propagating vaccine misinformation, announced that it will introduce new maps to help health organizations prevent and respond to infectious disease outbreaks such as measles cases. “We realized some of the movement maps we created for natural disasters could also be used for the spread of malaria or the flu,” said Laura McGorman, policy lead of Facebook’s Data for Good team, tells Fortune. “We wanted to create tools that could offer substantial life-saving insights.” (Fortune)

Juul has an underage Twitter follower issue. A new study finds that most of vaping giant Juul's Twitter followers are teens who aren't old enough to legally purchase the company's products. In fact, 45% of Juul account followers were between 13 and 17, and only 19% were 21 or older (a number of locales have raised the legal smoking age to 21, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged to do that same on a federal level). Juul has faced major criticism over its marketing tactics, which some public health officials have said target teens and youth. (Reuters)


Medicines Company stock jumps on cholesterol drug data. Shares of the Medicine Company jumped about 4% in Monday trading after its cholesterol-busting drug (being co-developed with Alnylam) produced long-term, 50% reduction in "bad" LDL cholesterol in a late stage clinical trial. The treatment, inclisiran, differs from other new cholesterol meds such as Amgen's Repatha and Sanofi/Regeneron's Praluent in its action mechanism, which involves a process called "RNA interference" that disrupts the very process of creating a specific protein linked to bad cholesterol. (Endpoints News)


The doctor job market is booming. My colleague Shawn Tully has an insightful piece on the boom in the doctor job market - and what it could mean for broader American health care and the patients who interact with it. "Newly-minted physicians are choosing from multiple job offers, getting paid more sumptuously than ever, and can practice pretty much wherever they want. At the same time, the way they practice is shifting radically, as more and more physicians choose salaried positions with hospital chains and group practices encompassing thousands of MDs," writes Shawn, going on to note some of the persisting discrepancies between cities and rural regions when it comes to physician presence and choice. (Fortune)


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