A new artificial intelligence tool may be able to detect brain trauma in living patients years after the initial injury occurred, according to a new study by Canadian researchers at the Université de Montreal, the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (The Neuro) and the Ludmer Center for NeuroInformatics
Concussion symptoms may linger years after the traumatic event, but until now, it has been difficult to know whether concussion-like symptoms are due to the actual concussion or other factors such as a neurological condition or the normal aging process. In fact, the only way to prove brain damage by concussion is through post-mortem examination.
To test the new tool, the researchers recruited former university athletes aged 51 to 75 who played contact sports such as ice hockey and American football. From those, the researchers formed a group of 15 athletes who reported being concussed in their athletic careers, and a control group of 15 athletes who had not been concussed.
The participants underwent a battery of tests, including neuropsychological testing, genotyping, structural neuroimaging, magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and diffusion weighted imaging. Then the researchers fed the data to computers that use artificial intelligence software to “learn” the differences between the brain of a healthy athlete versus the brain of a previously concussed athlete.
The findings reveal that white matter connections between several brain regions of concussed individuals showed abnormal connectivity that might reflect both degeneration and the brain’s method of compensating for damage. Using the data, the computers were able to detect concussion with up to 90 percent accuracy.
The findings, once more thoroughly tested and refined, could have implications for current and future concussion lawsuits. For example, the National Football League faced a decade-long lawsuit by former players who claimed it did not do enough to protect players from concussion.
The lawsuit was complicated by the fact there was no objective way to determine if the neurological symptoms they experienced were caused by the concussions they received as players. The National Hockey League is currently facing a similar lawsuit.
First author Dr. Sebastien Tremblay says the device needs to be validated on a larger sample size, using various magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners, before it becomes an effective means to diagnose concussion. Once perfected, it could also aid treatment of concussion by providing doctors with an accurate picture of what is causing their patients’ symptoms.
“With 1.6 to 3.8 million concussions per year in the US alone, the prevalence of this injury is alarming,” says Tremblay, a postdoctoral researcher at The Neuro. “It is unacceptable that no objective tools or techniques yet exist to diagnose them, not to mention the sheer lack of scientifically valid treatment options. With our work, we hope to provide help to the vast population of former athletes who experience neurological issues after retiring from contact sport.”
The study findings are published in the European Journal of Neuroscience.
Source: Université de Montreal