Researchers have developed a tool to screen children for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology on 18th February 2019.
This study was conducted in 6 assessments by scientists from the University of Southern California (USC), Queen's University (Ontario) and Duke University.
The researchers developed a tool that is capable of screening children for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in a much faster, affordable and reliable way. This tool would be made accessible to the maximum of children (even located in remote areas).
FASD is a condition that results in a wide range of physical, behavioral, and learning problems. It is very prevalent in children but its diagnosis is still very challenging, time-consuming and expensive. Also, due to the limited capacity of clinics, neurocognitive and neurobehavioral impairments profiles have also been underreported.
The study was conducted on children aged 5 to 18 years and a tool was developed using machine learning framework. This tool is based on patterns in children's eye movements recorded by using a camera and computer vision. This is done by watching multiple one-minute videos or look towards/away from a target.
The results are matched to the recorded eye movements of other children who watched the same videos. Few norms were set to identify whether children would be suffering from FASD or not. Kids falling behind these norms were announced to be at the risk of having FASD.
It is assumed that at least millions of people in the world right now might be suffering from FASD and hence, the development of such a tool was a necessity. These diseases, if left undiagnosed, might become an invitation to other problems like secondary cognitive and behavioral disabilities.
Paper's corresponding author, Laurent Itti, a professor of computer science, psychology and neuroscience at USC said, "There is not a simple blood test to diagnose FASD. It is one of those spectrum disorders where there is a broad range of the disorder. It is medically very challenging and it is co-morbid with other conditions. The current gold standard is subjective, as it involves a battery of tests and clinical evaluation. It is also costly."
Professor Itti added, "Sometimes people may tell you that you only use 10 percent of your brain in everyday life. But as soon as you open your eyes and process the visual world in front of you, already over 70 percent of your brain is engaged. Your ocular-motor system is so complex, that if something is going on in your brain, your eyes will give some sort of signature.”
Chen Zhang, a doctoral candidate from the Neuroscience Graduate Program at USC and the paper's first author said, "The new screening procedure only involves a camera and a computer screen and can be applied to very young children. It takes only 10 to 20 minutes and the cost should be affordable in most cases. The machine learning pipeline behind this gives out objective and consistent estimations in minutes."
According to the latest study by JAMA, it is found that 3.1% to 9.9% of children throughout the U.S. have a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
This is not the first time that computer vision has been used to screen neurological and cognitive conditions. Earlier, this technique has been applied to screening Attention Deficit Disorder and Parkinson's disease.
As said by the researchers, this tool is not developed to replace full diagnosis by professionals. But it is only aimed at providing important feedback to the parents and help them in ensuring that their child is not at the risk of contracting FASD.