Vets use AI to help diagnose Addison’s disease

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diagnosing Addison's disease in dogs

Veterinarians in the US have developed an algorithm utilising artificial intelligence (AI) to detect Addison’s disease, a rare, life-threatening illness in dogs. 

Addison’s disease, also known as hypoadrenocorticism, is a condition that results in a lack of critical hormones, which are needed to maintain health.

A team from the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, working with an electrical and computer engineer, developed the AI algorithm, which has an accuracy rate greater than 99 per cent. The team—who published their breakthrough in Domestic Animal Endocrinology—say the program is superior to any other screening tool that utilises routine blood tests available to veterinarians.

Addison’s disease is notoriously difficult to recognise. Dogs have vague clinical signs that mimic other conditions such as kidney and intestinal disease, causing veterinarians to refer to the disease as ‘the great pretender’. Addison’s can go undetected for years.

The researchers set out to create an alert system—using information from routine screening tests—that would be able to inform veterinarians when Addison’s disease is likely, and prompt further investigation. The AI-powered algorithm does just that.

When a sick dog visits a veterinarian, often the first tests ordered are routine blood tests (complete blood count and serum biochemical profile). The loss of hormones associated with Addison’s disease results in subtle irregularities in those tests that can be confused with other disease processes. The team used this routine blood work to train an AI program to detect complex patterns from more than 1000 dogs previously treated at UC Davis. The computer program was able to learn these patterns, and with very high accuracy, determine if a dog has Addison’s disease.

This program can analyse this first line, routine blood work, and alert veterinarians when Addison’s disease is suspected, triggering them to pursue further diagnostic testing—an adrenocorticotropic hormone stimulation test—the gold standard to confirm Addison’s.

“Veterinarians need a safety net to prevent dogs with Addison’s from falling through the cracks,” Dr Krystle Reagan said.

“This AI program is now that safety net. It has the potential to revolutionise the detection of Addison’s and save many dogs’ lives.”

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