How AI Could Change COVID Testing

It's better than a stick up the nose

Key Takeaways

  • A new AI-driven software product can detect the presence of COVID-19 in routine blood samples, its maker claims. 
  • AI-COVID could save testing materials and also speed the process of checking for the virus. 
  • The product is one of a growing number of ways to monitor COVID-19 that are powered by AI.
Three Dimensional user interface HUD of medical technology, rib and lung wire-frame model of human organ analysis, background for medical technology
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New artificial intelligence software could speed the process of detecting COVID-19 in hospital patients by analyzing routine blood samples. 

The software, AI-COVID, can be used to monitor blood samples for the COVID-19 virus during routine screenings, according to the manufacturer Biocogniv. The new software could help save scarce coronavirus testing supplies. It’s one of a growing number of diagnostic instruments to monitor COVID-19 that are powered by AI. 

"This is an interesting development and essentially builds on what we are already doing in clinical practice where we monitor for patterns in the routine bloods that we order to assess the risk of COVID-19 while waiting for the PCR," Dr. Ceppie Merry, an infectious disease specialist, told Lifewire in an email interview.

"Many hospitals have a range of bloods which are often called 'the COVID bundle' which we use to pre-empt the PCR. This type of approach to monitoring trends in lieu of high tech diagnostics is sometimes used in resource-poor countries and is often called 'the poor man's test.'"

Measuring Probability

The new software analyzes routine lab tests called Complete Blood Count (CBC) and Complete Metabolic Panels (CMP). These tests evaluate the immune system, electrolytes, kidney, and liver. Researchers used artificial intelligence to train a model that analyzes changes in the tests and assigns a probability of the patient being COVID-19 negative.

A recent study showed that AI-COVID was highly accurate in predicting the probability of COVID-19 infection using routine blood tests. The software found 95% of the infections in a study of patients from 22 hospitals, according to the peer-reviewed paper in the Journal of Medical Internet Research

Futuristic COVID-19 doctor wearing a mask using a digital AI inforgraphic.
Vithun Khamsong / Getty Images

AI-COVID could mean faster test results. PCR is the current standard test for COVID-19 and requires specific sampling, like a nasal swab, and specialized laboratory equipment to run.

The national average turnaround time for COVID-19 tests ordered in emergency rooms is above 24 hours, which is "far from the targeted one-hour turnaround," Tanya Kanigan, the chief operating officer of Biocogniv, said. 

By contrast, AI-COVID takes seconds to generate results, Jennifer Joe, M.D., an emergency physician and Biocogniv's chief medical officer, said in a news release. "In an efficient emergency department that prioritizes these routine blood tests, the door-to-result time could be under an hour."

AI is the Hot New Diagnostic Tool

The software tool is one of many new approaches to detecting and monitoring COVID that are powered by AI. Neurodigitx is working on an AI-driven method of monitoring COVID that looks at heart rate variability (HRV).

Its tool, called Plastic Health, collects HRV, respiratory and cognitive data with the "Plastic Egg," a biosensor and breathing-based game controller, and "Plastic" mobile games, guiding a user's breath to measure inflammation accurately. 

The monitoring of HRV allows the software to "track the warning signs of all kinds of complex diseases, ahead of any symptoms, days, weeks, sometimes years ahead," Neurodigitx’s COO Celine Vignal said in an email interview. 

Other software solutions monitor COVID without making any physical contact. The app MyHealthLab can detect your vital signs by having you look into a camera, and its makers claim it could monitor the symptoms of COVID-19. "Binah.ai’s real-time vital signs monitoring app allows medical staff to easily measure oxygen saturation (SpO2), respiration rate, [and] heart rate," according to the company's website. 

"The software tool is one of many new approaches to detecting and monitoring COVID that are powered by AI."

Sonde Health is selling an app-based solution to monitor COVID-19, which uses six seconds of voice analysis paired with a quick questionnaire and temperature reading. The app analyzes six seconds of voice analysis (saying "ah") paired with a quick questionnaire and temperature reading. The screening result is available immediately.

MIT researchers say they have developed a new artificial intelligence model that they claim can detect the virus from a cough. "The sounds of talking and coughing are both influenced by the vocal cords, and surrounding organs," MIT researcher Brian Subirana said in a news release. "This means that when you talk, part of your talking is like coughing and vice versa."

The future looks bright for diagnosing COVID-19 using artificial intelligence. Pretty soon, you may not even have to get a swab stuck up your nose to get tested.

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