Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Computer-aided diagnosis of rare genetic disorders from family snaps


Computer analysis of photographs could help doctors diagnose which condition a child with a rare genetic disorder has, say Oxford University researchers.

The researchers, funded in part by the Medical Research Council (MRC), have come up with a computer programme that recognises facial features in photographs; looks for similarities with facial structures for various conditions, such as Down's syndrome, Angelman syndrome, or Progeria; and returns possible matches ranked by likelihood.

This image shows an average face taking on the average facial features of eight rare genetic disorders that have been built from a growing bank of photographs of people diagnosed with different syndromes. Oxford University scientists have developed a computer program to help doctors diagnose rare genetic disorders by recognizing facial structure in photographs.

Credit: Christoffer Nellåker/Oxford University

Using the latest in computer vision and machine learning, the algorithm increasingly learns what facial features to pay attention to and what to ignore from a growing bank of photographs of people diagnosed with different syndromes.

The researchers report their findings in the journal eLife. The study was funded by the MRC, the Wellcome Trust, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and the European Research Council (ERC VisRec).

While genetic disorders are each individually rare, collectively these conditions are thought to affect one person in 17. Of these, a third may have symptoms that greatly reduce quality of life. However, most people fail to receive a genetic diagnosis.

'A diagnosis of a rare genetic disorder can be a very important step. It can provide parents with some certainty and help with genetic counselling on risks for other children or how likely a condition is to be passed on,' says lead researcher Dr Christoffer Nellåker of the MRC Functional Genomics Unit at the University of Oxford. 'A diagnosis can also improve estimates of how the disease might progress, or show which symptoms are caused by the genetic disorder and which are caused by other clinical issues that can be treated.'

The team of researchers at the University of Oxford included first author Quentin Ferry, a DPhil research student, and Professor Andrew Zisserman of the Department of Engineering Science, who brought expertise in computer vision and machine learning.

Professor Zisserman says: 'It is great to see such an inventive and beneficial use of modern face representation methods.'

Identifying a suspected developmental disorder tends to require clinical geneticists to come to a conclusion based on facial features, follow up tests and their own expertise. It's thought that 30–40% of rare genetic disorders involve some form of change in the face and skull, possibly because so many genes are involved in development of the face and cranium as a baby grows in the womb.

The researchers set out to teach a computer to carry out some of the same assessments objectively.

They developed a programme that – like Google, Picasa and other photo software – recognises faces in ordinary, everyday photographs. The programme accounts for variations in lighting, image quality, background, pose, facial expression and identity. It builds a description of the face structure by identifying corners of eyes, nose, mouth and other features, and compares this against what it has learnt from other photographs fed into the system.

The algorithm the researchers have developed sees patients sharing the same condition automatically cluster together.

The computer algorithm does better at suggesting a diagnosis for a photo where it has previously seen lots of other photos of people with that syndrome, as it learns more with more data.

Patients also cluster where no documented diagnosis exists, potentially helping in identifying ultra-rare genetic disorders.

'A doctor should in future, anywhere in the world, be able to take a smartphone picture of a patient and run the computer analysis to quickly find out which genetic disorder the person might have,' says Dr Nellåker.

'This objective approach could help narrow the possible diagnoses, make comparisons easier and allow doctors to come to a conclusion with more certainty.'


Notes to Editors

The paper 'Diagnostically-relevant facial gestalt information from ordinary photos' by Quentin Ferry and colleagues is to be published in the journal eLife on Tuesday 24 January 2014.

The study was funded by the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and the European Research Council (ERC VisRec).

The Medical Research Council has been at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers' money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Twenty-nine MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government's strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website.

Oxford University's Medical Sciences Division is one of the largest biomedical research centres in Europe, with over 2,500 people involved in research and more than 2,800 students. The University is rated the best in the world for medicine, and it is home to the UK's top-ranked medical school.

From the genetic and molecular basis of disease to the latest advances in neuroscience, Oxford is at the forefront of medical research. It has one of the largest clinical trial portfolios in the UK and great expertise in taking discoveries from the lab into the clinic. Partnerships with the local NHS Trusts enable patients to benefit from close links between medical research and healthcare delivery.

A great strength of Oxford medicine is its long-standing network of clinical research units in Asia and Africa, enabling world-leading research on the most pressing global health challenges such as malaria, TB, HIV/AIDS and flu. Oxford is also renowned for its large-scale studies which examine the role of factors such as smoking, alcohol and diet on cancer, heart disease and other conditions.

Press Office | Eurek Alert!

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Inflammation Triggers Unsustainable Immune Response to Chronic Viral Infection
24.10.2016 | Universität Basel

nachricht Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia
21.10.2016 | Universitätsklinikum Magdeburg

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>