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Future Testing Will Be Music to Patients' Ears

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Computer software also can be used to increase the value of imaging tests. Doctors miss one in four breast cancers with mammograms, but computer-aided diagnosis makes doctors better, according to David Ku, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of surgery at Emory University School of Medicine and professor of mechanical engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, both in Atlanta.

With Ku's Internet-based application, doctors can compare abnormalities to a growing database of digital mammograms, providing a virtual second opinion. In addition to early cancer detection, Ku believes computer-aided diagnosis will reduce the number of false positive readings, resulting in fewer breast biopsies. The makers plan to launch the program in January.

Intelligent computers also may provide an alternative to the arteriogram, where a small tube is fed through the groin to view blood vessels of the heart and neck. "A traditional MRI scan [similar to an x-ray] overestimates blockage, but artificial intelligence makes it as accurate as an arteriogram, without all the risks," says Harris Bergman, PhD, a biomedical engineer and co-founder of Atlanta-based MediZeus. "Bergman tells WebMD that the MRAngiogram will be available in about three years at one quarter the cost of the traditional method.

Vital Information:

  • Researchers say over the next few years, a new generation of laboratory tests and imaging techniques will become available to help doctors screen patients for disease. The advances promise to be less invasive and may even be cheaper than current procedures.
  • Computers and data bases may even help doctors analyze test results so fewer patients with diseases are missed.
  • The new techniques will supply physicians with different initial tests to diagnose disease before they have to resort to the standard tests that are used today.
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