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Japanese company's AI to offer 5-minute dementia diagnosis

Data analysis specialist Fronteo to launch clinical trials early next year

Dementia affects around one-fifth of Japan's elderly, according to the health ministry. By 2025, the country is expected to have around 7 million dementia patients. (Source photo by Wakako Iguchi) 

TOKYO -- Japanese data analysis company Fronteo aims to begin clinical trials as soon as early next year on a diagnostic tool for dementia that uses artificial intelligence.

Fronteo's AI system analyses 5- to 10-minute conversations between a patient and a doctor. The diagnosis itself takes 1 minute. Fronteo hopes to start commercial sales in 2022 of the system, which is designed to minimize stress on both doctors and patients, and help with early diagnosis of dementia.

There were 4.62 million dementia patients in Japan as of 2012, according to the health ministry. That number is expected to rise to about 7 million, or roughly 20% of the country's elderly population, by 2025.

Fronteo, which is listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange's Mothers market for young companies, would be the first in Japan to conduct clinical trials of a system that uses AI to analyze conversations and diagnose dementia. Licensed medical equipment using AI, such as endoscopes, have so far mostly analyzed images.

Fronteo's system transcribes conversations between a patient and doctor into written text. It uses AI to analyze the structure and words in the text. The doctor makes the final diagnosis based on the results of the AI analysis.

Basic testing revealed the system accurately diagnosed dementia 85% of the time, which is similar to the rate achieved by medical specialists. Fronteo developed the system together with the Keio University School of Medicine, and was backed by Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development.

The clinical trials will further test the accuracy of the system's diagnoses. Fronteo is considering applying for a medical equipment license from the health ministry next year. Fronteo has already applied for expedited screening, hoping to be granted a license by 2022 to start sales as soon as possible. Generic drug company Kyowa Pharmaceutical Industry will largely be in charge of distribution.

Objective diagnosis of dementia is difficult. Assessments are based on scores from specialized interviews and the subjective judgment of doctors. Positron emission tomography testing of the brain, which looks for the presence of abnormal proteins, is rare because of the cost. Fronteo hopes its system can help doctors diagnose dementia, even if they are not specialists.

Fronteo partnered with Microsoft to develop the diagnostic system. It will be integrated with Microsoft's Azure cloud service so that hospitals can use the system with PCs and smartphones, eliminating the need for hospitals to set up their own servers.

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