health tech

Houston hospital taps artificial intelligence to boost stroke treatment

Baylor St. Luke's Hospital is using a new Bay Area technology to provide treatment to stroke patients. Photo courtesy Baylor St. Luke's

For neurologists and neurocritical care providers like Dr. Chethan Rao, medical director of Neuroscience ICU at Baylor St. Luke's Hospital, time is incredibly important when it comes to brain-related recoveries.

"For every minute that you don't treat a patient with a stroke, 2 million nerve cells die. In the normal aging process, you lose about 35,000 cells a year or so," Rao says. "In other words, you age about 10 years every minute you don't get a treatment for stroke."

This is why his team is using new technologies, softwares, and innovation to drastically reduce the time it takes to treat patients who've suffered from a stroke starting from the moment they enter through the doors of their hospital.

One of the latest advancements at Baylor St. Luke's is the adoption of the San Francisco-based artificial intelligence app called Viz.ai across its stroke care teams.

The app received FDA approval in February 2020 and uses deep learning algorithms to analyze CAT scans for suspected large vessel occlusion (LVO) strokes. Baylor purchased the software about a year ago and is the first Houston-area hospital to use artificial intelligence for this type of treatment.

Viz.ai instantly allows doctors to determine salvageable and unsalvageable brain tissue, creating what Dr. Rao describes as a "map" for any potential procedures. Determining the viability of this type of treatment traditionally would take about 15 to 20 minutes, according to Rao.

"That's the reason artificial intelligence and automated technology has become extremely important. Because the more you've reduced the time it's required to make decisions and to provide treatments for stroke, that benefit is humungous for the patient," he says.

Rao says that his team uses the software about every day and has treated roughly 140 stroke patients with guidance from the tool.

Next the hospital aims to connect Viz.ai with additional automated systems it has adopted to speed up processes for stroke patients and manage their care, including TigerConnect for internal HIPAA-approved messaging and Decisio, a Houston-based product that captures key time stamps.

And Rao adds that the hospital is researching ways to extend the use of Viz.ai for select patients—to salvage more brain matter and analyze additional neurological events.

"More exciting things will be coming out of it," he says. "We're also working on helping it analyze aneurysms, not just blockages. Can we locate the bleeds, so that we can create different alert systems and then create different treatment pathways immediately?"

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For over a year now, scientists have been testing wastewater for COVID-19. Now, the public can access that information. Photo via Getty Images

In 2020, a group of researchers began testing Houston's wastewater to collect data to help identify trends at the community level. Now, the team's work has been rounded up to use as an online resource.

The Houston Health Department and Rice University launched the dashboard on September 22. The information comes from samples collected from the city's 39 wastewater treatment plants and many HISD schools.

"This new dashboard is another tool Houstonians can use to gauge the situation and make informed decisions to protect their families," says Dr. Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer for the health department and professor in the practice of statistics at Rice University, in a news release. "A high level of virus in your neighborhood's wastewater means virus is spreading locally and you should be even more stringent about masking up when visiting public places."

The health department, Houston Water, Rice University, and Baylor College of Medicine originally collaborated on the wastewater testing. Baylor microbiologist Dr. Anthony Maresso, director of BCM TAILOR Labs, led a part of the research.

"This is not Houston's first infectious disease crisis," Maresso says in an earlier news release. "Wastewater sampling was pioneered by Joseph Melnick, the first chair of Baylor's Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology, to get ahead of polio outbreaks in Houston in the 1960s. This work essentially ushered in the field of environmental virology, and it began here at Baylor. TAILOR Labs is just continuing that tradition by providing advanced science measures to support local public health intervention."

It's an affordable way to track the virus, says experts. People with COVID-19 shed viral particles in their feces, according to the release, and by testing the wastewater, the health department can measure important infection rate changes.

The dashboard, which is accessible online now, is color-coded by the level of viral load in wastewater samples, as well as labeled with any recent trend changes. Houstonians can find the interactive COVID-19 wastewater monitoring dashboard, vaccination sites, testing sites, and more information at houstonemergency.org/covid19.

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