Doctors said the coma patients would never wake. AI said they would – and they did

Artificial intelligence system developed in Beijing ‘will never replace doctors’ but it can trace brain activity invisible to the human eye.

At least seven patients in Beijing who doctors said had “no hope” of regaining consciousness were re-evaluated by an artificial intelligence system that predicted they would awaken within a year.

They did.

One 19-year-old patient spent six months with unresponsive wakefulness syndrome – formerly known as being in a vegetative state — after an accident caused a severe injury to his left temple.

Some of China’s best neurologists conducted four rounds of assessments on his potential for recovery and gave him seven out of 23 points on a coma recovery scale, a score which meant his family had a legal right to unplug his life support.

After going through his brain scans, however, the computer gave him more than 20 points, close to the full score.

In another case, doctors gave a 41-year-old female stroke victim who had been in a vegetative state for three months a recovery potential score of six. The computer’s: 20.23.

The young man, middle-aged woman and five other patients whom doctors believed would never recover woke up within 12 months of the brain scan, precisely as predicted.

But the machine also made some mistakes. A 36-year-old man who suffered bilateral brainstem damage after a stroke was given low scores by both doctors and AI. He recovered fully in less than a year.

The AI system, developed after eight years of research by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and PLA General Hospital in Beijing, has achieved nearly 90 per cent accuracy on prognostic assessments, according to the researchers.

Some of their results were released in a research paper published last month in the peer-reviewed journal eLife.

“We have successfully predicted a number of patients who regained consciousness after being initially determined to have no hope of recovery,” the researchers said in a statement.

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