Life in a coma: Can a machine tell us whether someone will ever wake up?

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Image credit: Claire Wineland

When somebody falls into a coma, they lose all motor functions. Brain activity slows significantly. In most cases, no external stimuli, like light or movement, can wake them up. It’s notoriously difficult to determine their future state — will they ever wake up again?

Chinese neurologists at the Academy of Sciences and the PLA General Hospital in Beijing are working hard to develop a tool that can help doctors assess exactly that. But they’ve got a technological advantage generations of doctors before them didn’t: machine learning. Algorithms like this one are part of a growing arsenal of data-driven tools that can help emotional family members and doctors make difficult decisions about a patient’s treatment, or help determine when it’s time to say goodbye.

Related article:  Podcast: Nothing about me without me—The importance of involving patients in genomic research

As it turns out, the results are very promising: “We have successfully predicted a number of patients who regained consciousness after being initially determined to have no hope of recovery,” the researchers told the South China Morning Post.

The algorithm was 90 percent accurate, the researchers found. And they have already used the technique on more than 300 hundred patients from all over China. They hope the same technology could help more of the estimated 50,000 “patients with chronic disturbance of consciousness” in China.

Read full, original post: Should Coma Patients Live or Die? Machine Learning Will Help Decide

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