FAYETTE COUNTY, Ga. — Your voice can help diagnose everything from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease to depression.
The technology is already being used in Georgia. Atlanta startup TQIntelligence has created an app that uses voice samples and artificial intelligence to help diagnose mental health issues in children.
A major project is also underway to help doctors diagnose and treat several common diseases.
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“I was terrified,” Roger Cochran said of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis three years ago. “I had this vision of what it meant to have Alzheimer’s, which was to be completely incompetent.”
His wife, Dorothy Merrick, began to notice small changes.
“I saw the memory loss in his social behavior that he didn’t want to come with me to some social events,” Merrick said.
The Fayette County couple is taking his diagnosis together. Merrick writes each day’s agenda on a whiteboard near their back door to help Cochran remember what he needs to do.
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Dr. Yael Bensoussan of the University of South Florida in Tampa examines Alzheimer’s disease and other diseases as co-director of Voice as a Biomarker for Health. It is part of a four-year project by the National Institutes of Health.
The goal is to “… develop a very large-scale database of human voices linked to other biomarkers of health,” Dr. Bensoussan said.
She and researchers from 11 other universities and hospitals will use an app to collect voice samples. The samples will undergo AI analysis to identify signs of disease such as slow speech.
They will be used to diagnose and treat five categories: voice, neurological, respiratory, psychiatric and childhood speech disorders.
“Looking specifically at autism and speech delay,” Bensoussan said.
She said bioethicists are involved to protect patient privacy.
“They need to know that their health information is not floating around the word,” Bensoussan said.
She envisions this as a tool that will lead to earlier diagnoses.
“I think that’s fantastic. I think the more we learn about a disease … the better it can be,” Merrick said.
Voice and AI are also being used in an app to help children with mental health problems created by Atlanta-based startup TQIntelligence. Therapists gather information such as a child’s diagnosis and history along with voice samples to identify children in crisis and treat them.
“We focus on three of the negative emotions: anger, right? Fear and sadness,” said Jared Alemu, Ph.D. founder and CEO of TQIntelligence.
He hopes the app will help these kids become healthy and productive.
“You can change the trajectory from maladaptive behavior, dropping out of school … you can have a productive member of society,” Alemu said.
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A local home counseling agency is currently using the app, as well as schools outside of Georgia.
“So we are currently working in 60 schools. That number will continue to grow,” said Mark Feinberg, COO of TQIntelligence.
Daija is a nurse who works part-time at the behavioral health agency Chris 180. She received counseling for trauma and general anxiety through Chris 180.
Although Daijah hasn’t used this app, she thinks it can make a big difference. “It’s hard to express feelings. And if you can just collect data based on likes, the sound of my voice and the way I say things, that’s great,” Daija said.
TQIntelligence’s CEO said his app is 80% accurate. It is also used to monitor whether patients are making progress in their treatment.
The company has some big investors. Google, Blue Cross and the National Science Foundation have invested about $1.5 million in the development of this technology.
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