How do you achieve an accuracy rate of up to 99%?
A recent study may have a bizarre answer: use pigeons!
Pigeons may not be able to compose a song, but they’ve had millions of years’ worth of evolution to develop the abilities that they need to negotiate a very complicated world. “These individuals, even after years of education and training, may sometimes struggle to arrive at correct disease or risk classifications using the visual cues present on microscope slides or medical images”
You can watch their video here:
It got weirder:
The study found : “…pigeons to be remarkably adept at several medical image classification tasks. They quickly learned to distinguish benign from malignant breast cancer histopathology”. Levenson et al, further commented: “Overall, our results suggest that pigeons can be used as suitable surrogates for human observers in certain medical image perception studies, thus avoiding the need to recruit, pay, and retain clinicians as subjects for relatively mundane tasks.”
Great! Let’s see what that could save:
Assumptions: Pathologists’ salary – based on an average $290,000 salary plus a christmas bonus. Pigeons – based on them needing fed twice a day ($1) plus a peanut or two as a christmas bonus.
Wow, some great cost savings. Someone should recommend this to the UK’s NHS’ Jeremy Hunt instead of cutting the salaries of junior doctors?
Okay, so back to reality – do we still need human beings?
There’s a lot of questions still to be answered and inevitably we still will need human beings for many years to come. The industry is evolving quickly however, with advances in what is being the ‘next big thing’: digital pathology. My good friends over at Visiopharm are a great example of these type of companies that are really pushing the boundaries in an attempt to remove the subjectivity and improve accuracy in the microscopy field.
Only 33% of LDTs were stained ‘optimally’
Again, another issue that NordiQC highlights. If the stain wasn’t correct in the first place, what chance does the poor pigeon have?
The authors had a final word: “Of course, pigeons are not the only animals to have shown abilities relevant to medical diagnoses.” … just like any good film, leaving the audience anticipating more with a cliff-hanger! I’m hoping for a study on Penguins diagnosing diabetes, anyone else have any suggestions for them?
In other non-news
The Daily Mail and the Telegraph were both equally guilty of using the “simple blood test”headline this week, referring to a small study that analysed blood samples to find molecules to suggest the presence of ovarian cancer. The complex method involved a number of difficult steps, including: separating the serum from blood, then further separating the proteins and molecules in the serum using highly specialised machinery. The researchers ran all the molecules through a computer algorithm to find which molecules were in women with ovarian cancer but not in women who were cancer free.
Have a suggestion on what the next animal the study should focus on? Contact me and I’ll suggest it to them.