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Microsoft Researchers Correlate Bing Searches to Signal Pancreatic Cancer

Findings from a study conducted by three Microsoft researchers that analyzed the retroactive searches of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer showed patterns that may help connect certain symptoms not associated with the disease in order to come to a diagnoses sooner.

Using anonymized data from Bing's Web search logs, the three researchers were able to associate those who diagnosed with pancreatic cancer to look for common queries prior to discovering they had the deadly disease. Pancreatic cancer is among the deadliest forms of the disease because it is fast spreading and symptoms rarely appear before very late stages.

The Microsoft researchers included Technical Fellow Eric Horvitz, CTO of Heath Intelligence and Principal Researcher Ryen White and former Microsoft Intern John Paparrizos, who is now a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, where the study was performed. Their findings were published this week in the Journal of Oncology Practice. An abstract of the report explained that online activities could offer clues about emerging health conditions. The researchers said they used statistical analyses of large-scale anonymized search logs examining symptom queries from millions of people.

"We identified searchers in logs of online search activity who issued special queries that are suggestive of a recent diagnosis of pancreatic adenocarcinoma," according to the report's abstract. "We then went back many months before these landmark queries were made, to examine patterns of symptoms, which were expressed as searches about concerning symptoms. We built statistical classifiers that predicted the future appearance of the landmark queries based on patterns of signals seen in search logs."

The results showed that the searches could identify 5 percent to 15 percent of instances where search activities could potentially predict the existence of the disease, according to the report.

Horvitz, an artificial intelligence expert with both a Ph.D. and an MD from Stanford University, said that the queries entered about certain strings of symptoms could offer early warnings of the disease that would ultimately lead to a diagnosis weeks or months than they might otherwise have, in a Microsoft blog post. Given the low survival rate of pancreatic cancer, it could at the very least increase the odds of remission, though warned the findings are just a proof of concept. Microsoft said it doesn't plan to produce any products based on the findings but suggested it sets the stage for future discussion.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/10/2016 at 11:15 AM


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