Hedge Fund Analysts Use Deep Learning To Diagnose Heart’s Condition

This post is by Cat Zakrzewski from Venture Capital Dispatch

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Two quantitative analysts using artificial intelligence in an online data science competition showed they could diagnose heart disease about as accurately as doctors.

Qi Liu and Tencia Lee, hedge fund analysts and self-described “quants,” built the winning algorithm in the competition, which could find indicators of heart disease. The online data contest challenged participants to develop machine algorithms that could measure cardiac volumes from MRIs provided by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Mr. Liu and Ms. Lee didn’t know each other before they won the competition, beating out more than 1,390 algorithms. They met each other in a forum on the Kaggle site, where the competition was hosted over a three-month period.

“We decided to combine our methods,” Ms. Lee said. “We decided they were different enough from each other that we could do better than either of us would alone.”

Competitors worked on algorithms that could a manual and slow process that normally is carried out by cardiologists. Usually it takes doctors about 20 minutes to measure cardiac volumes and derive ejection fraction data from an MRI. The algorithms can analyze the images much more quickly.

The data scientists had a set of more than 1,000 MRIs to work with. Ms. Lee said the winning algorithm used a technique called deep learning.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute will now test the algorithm in clinical environments. Ms. Lee said she hopes one day the algorithm can be used by health care professionals, but she said there is a long road of testing and regulatory processes before it gets there.

“I certainly wouldn’t trust my doctor with what we just wrote,” Ms. Lee said.

Many companies are trying to use artificial intelligence to improve medicine. Investors are increasingly backing startups in the category, and public technology companies have signaled it is a sector they’re betting on. Last year International Business Machines Corp. acquired Merge Healthcare Inc. for $1 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The contest, the National Data Science Bowl, is sponsored by the data science startup Kaggle and Booz Allen Hamilton.

This is the second time Kaggle has hosted a National Data Science Bowl. The first competition challenged scientists to come up with algorithms that could measure plankton population to predict global health.

Kaggle Chief Executive Anthony Goldbloomsaid the winner of the first National Data Science Bowl now works as a research scientist at Google’s DeepMind. He said Kaggle competitions, which crowd source solutions to big data problems, have become a way for data scientists to quantify their skills when applying for jobs.

Mr. Goldbloom said the company is now seeking proposals for the third competition’s challenge.

Write to Cat Zakrzewski at cat.zakrzewski@wsj.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Cat_Zakrzewski.