In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

September 17, 2019

Using Artificial Intelligence to Intelligently Determine Physiological Age

By In the Loop

A team of researchers at Mayo Clinic is investigating whether artificial intelligence-enabled EKGs can gauge a person's "physiological" age, which may help providers identify those in need of care.


The use of artificial intelligence to make life easier is an ever-growing area of focus for many tech companies. Whether we realize it or not, many of us are already using this technology inside our homes, offices and vehicles every day. But what can this "machine-learning" technology that's given us Siri, Alexa and Netflix, tell us about our health?

That is what a team of researchers at Mayo Clinic is trying to find out. They're investigating whether artificial intelligence can, over time, help identify certain markers that tell them how close a patient's "physiological" age is to their "chronological" age.

Paul Friedman, M.D., chair of Mayo Clinic's Department of Cardiovascular Medicine in Rochester, tells the hosts of CNBC's Squawk Box, the study set out to answer a "simple but profound" question: Can care providers use artificial-intelligence-enabled EKGs to gauge a person's physiological age? Mayo Clinic News Network reports that Dr. Friedman and team used EKGs in the "Mayo Clinic digital data vault" to see whether artificial intelligence could pick up the subtle clues often present with conditions like atrial fibrillation.

The idea is to identify patterns that could suggest the presence of underlying medical conditions if one's physiological age and chronical age aren't in line. "Let's say you're 50 and the computer says you're 65. Odds are high that you have a medical illness," Dr. Friedman tells CNBC. "That means your physiological age, disease, frailty, other conditions, are higher than the number of years you've lived."

It also means doctors can intervene to try and turn back your body's physiological clock by investigating and treating the cause of that age discrepancy. "We saw a number of people where their physiological age got younger again," Dr. Friedman tells CNBC.

Dr. Friedman says that is the primary goal of the study: to make health care more accessible by identifying those who need care. "ECGs are now so widely available from a watch, from a smartphone, that people can be tested even if you're in a rural community," he says. "If there's a discrepancy then maybe you should be seen by a bigger center, be seen by a doctor."

While more research, testing and such needs to happen before artificial intelligence and EKGs can be used widely to determine markers for a patient's physiological age, Dr. Friedman says the technology's potential holds hope. "An EKG will always show the heart's electrical activity at the time of the test, but this is like looking at the ocean now and being able to tell that there were big waves yesterday," he tells Mayo Clinic News Network. "AI can provide powerful information about the invisible electrical signals that our bodies give off with each heartbeat — signals that have been hidden in plain sight."

You can read more about those signals here and here. Then leave an intelligent comment or two for us below before using the social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.


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Tags: artificial intelligence, atrial fibrillation, Department of Cardiovascular Medicine, Dr. Paul Friedman, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Research News

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