AI Helps Researchers Uncover Distinct Brain Differences Between Males, Females

It is known that women and men experience everything from migraines to autism spectrum disorder and multiple sclerosis among other brain issues at different rates and often present with varied symptoms. Now, a new study has used artificial intelligence to learn more about the differences in women’s and men’s brains at the cellular level.

The study, led by scientists at NYU Langone Health, conducted an analysis of thousands of MRI brain scans from healthy 560 women and 471 men using machine learning. While the weight, shape and size of the brain has been studied before, not much is known about the organ’s layout at the cellular level.

The scientists fed the computer programs data examples of brain scans, allowing them to learn to distinguish biological sex by themselves. This is possible because the models were designed to use complex mathematical and statistical methods to get smarter as they gathered more data.

In their report, the scientists revealed that the computer programs recognized variations in white matter, which is made up of axons in the brain that allow communication between different regions of the brain as well as information exchange. This tissue is mainly found in the subcortical region.

According to the results, which were validated by three different artificial-intelligence models specifically designed to identify biological sex, the models accurately identified the sex of the subjects 92%–98% of the time. The study’s findings determined that artificial intelligence-based computer programs could correctly distinguish between biological female and male brains by picking out patterns in complexity and structure invisible to the naked eye.

The senior author of the study, Professor Yvonne Lui, stated that the team’s findings offered a clearer picture of how the living human brain was structured. Lui, who is also vice chair for research at the Gross School of Medicine’s Radiology department, revealed that prior research on microstructures in the brain had largely relied on human tissue samples and animal models. Their discovery, Lui noted, would provide new insights into how many neurological and psychiatric disordered developed and why they presented differently in women and men.

Junbo Chen, the study’s colead author, noted that the team’s findings highlighted the need for diversity when studying illnesses that develop in the human brain. Vara Lakshmi Bayanagari, another co-lead author of the study, agreed with Chen, explaining that men had historically been used as the standard for research for different disorders, which meant that researchers may have omitted critical insight.

The study’s results were published online in the “Scientific Reports” journal.

This isn’t the first time that AI is making a contribution to the health field. Companies such as Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) have been deploying the technology in wearables that help thousands of people to monitor their fundamentals such as heart rate.

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