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New discoveries in pulmonary hypertension at UArizona

Researchers use artificial intelligence to get early diagnosis of disease
Posted at 9:40 PM, Feb 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-22 00:35:20-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Researchers at the University of Arizona are making major strides in developing ways to treat lung disease with a unique twist.

Associate Professor Ruslan Rafikov and Dr. Olga Rafikova are researchers at the University of Arizona. The duo have been working on ways to help diagnose lung disease at earlier stages. They’ve been on the project for the last few years and so far, the results are promising.

"We can see where severe changes happen in the metabolic profile before the disease actually shows up,” Rafikova said.

The team has been able to create a unique fingerprint also known as a metabolite, for pulmonary hypertension. The disease can cause high blood pressure that can affect your heart and lungs along with other health issues.

"On average statistical data shows that to recognize pulmonary hypertension that they struggle on average for years,” Rafikov said.

Researchers teamed up with Doug Hockstad and others at Tech Launch Arizona to create a new start-up called Metfora with CEO Martin Fuchs to help move their work into commercial use. The technology can determine when normal cells become diseased cells and take note of changes in the metabolic process. All researchers need is a blood sample and artificial intelligence programming in place to get the data needed for a diagnosis.

"The changes are specific to the disease, so we’re calling them disease fingerprints. Those changes are specific to the disease and if we can detect that pattern then we know the disease is present. 45% of Americans have at least one chronic disease,” Fuchs said.

"This is a great example of fourth industrial revolution, it’s the blurring of the lines between the physical, the digital and the biological worlds,”Hockstad said.

It's also been discovered through the process that women over 40 are 3 to 4 times more likely to have pulmonary hypertension and might not know it. Experts say an earlier diagnosis can help save treatment time, money for patients and lives in the future. The team is starting to look at COPD and other diseases to help to find new solutions.

"We take the time it takes to get to a proper diagnosis from years down to weeks or days,” Fuchs said.