Microsoft to use AI to predict hundreds of illnesses from single blood test

4 Jan 2018

Image: Romaset/Shutterstock

Microsoft reveals it is to put its algorithms to good use by helping to create a single blood test that could determine dozens, if not hundreds, of illnesses.

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the medical profession has grown exponentially in recent years, including Nuritas, an Irish start-up that uses machine learning to discover new peptides for use in health, wellness and the pharmaceutical industry.

Now, Microsoft has revealed its algorithms are to be used as part of a shared project with a company called Adaptive Biotechnologies. The aim is to create a single blood test that could be trained to identify potentially hundreds of illnesses in the immune system before they present themselves as symptoms.

The company that Microsoft has now invested in is a major player in the sequencing of T- and B-cell receptors of the adaptive immune system.

With help from Microsoft’s AI, Adaptive Biotechnologies will be able to map the genetics of the human immune system, or immunome. The blood test would then be used to create individual disease diagnostics and, ultimately, a universal diagnostic for everyone.

The idea expands upon what the immune system is already capable of: finding potential threats to the human body, flagging them and then storing a piece of their genetic code to fight that condition at a later date.

Using AI, however, it could be possible to replicate this alert system outside of the human body and create an early warning system for patients and their doctors.

Adaptive Biotechnologies

Image: Adaptive Biotechnologies

‘X-ray of the immune system’

“Some conditions, like cancer or autoimmune disorders, can be difficult to diagnose,” said the CEO and co-founder of Adaptive Biotechnologies, Chad Robins, “but this universal map of the immune system will enable earlier and more accurate diagnosis of disease.”

Robins added that this could help physicians to “connect the dots to understand the relationship between disease states, and eventually lead to a better understanding of overall human health”.

Microsoft’s corporate vice-president of AI and research, Peter Lee, was equally optimistic in a blogpost about the project. “Imagine a world in which an ‘x-ray of the immune system’ actually exists,” he said.

“This would open new doors to predictive medicine, as a person’s immunological history is believed to shape their response to new pathogens and treatments in ways that are currently impossible to explore. The impact on human health of such a universal blood test that reads a person’s exposure and response to disease would be, in a word, transformational.”

According to GeekWire, Adaptive Biotechnologies will initially focus on diseases that are often only found at a late stage when they have already wreaked havoc on the body, such as pancreatic or ovarian cancer.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic