The AI software could help physicians determine whether PCR tests such as these would be necessary.
A Vermont tech company says it has created artificial intelligence software that hospitals can use to rule out whether someone has COVID-19 — simply by analyzing routine blood work.
Artur Adib, founder and CEO of Biocogniv, told Seven Days on Monday that his company's new AI software relies on blood tests often already performed during emergency room visits and would allow hospitals to gauge a patient's COVID status without using up critical testing supplies.
"What this enables hospitals to do is to protect their stash," he said, estimating that they could save up to 70 percent of their PCR kits.
Adib, who founded Biocogniv last year, said his company trained the AI software with a large dataset that included thousands of bloodwork results from both positive and negative COVID-19 patients.
The machine-learning software sifted through the data to find patterns and eventually figured out how to tell the blood results apart, according to Adib. It can now determine whether someone is "very, very unlikely" to have COVID-19 or whether their results are "inconclusive," he said. Physicians can then use these findings to decide whether they need to administer a PCR test.
Adib said the software has a similar accuracy rate to PCR tests, which are considered the gold standard. "What you want in a hospital setting, in an emergency room setting, is a high-sensitivity test — a test that does not give you a whole lot of false negatives," he said. "Our test can do that."
Biocogniv detailed its software's abilities in a recently published paper in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. It is now working with clinical labs that want to develop the software in-house and has applied for an emergency use authorization from the federal Food and Drug Administration with the hopes of selling it to hospitals around the country. Adib said his company did not yet have a set price, but he assured that it was working to come in "well under" the cost of setting up a PCR testing system.
Dr. Tim Plante, a physician and researcher at the University of Vermont Medical Center who helped Biocogniv write its recently published academic paper, called the software an "entirely new tool" in combatting the pandemic.
"These blood tests in the ER come back very quickly and there’s basically no extra time for running this [software]," he said. "It’s like punching numbers into a graphing calculator."
Perhaps even more important, he said, a successful roll out of the software could demonstrate the usefulness of AI technology in health care.
"It’s a groundbreaking application of a groundbreaking technology," he said.