Hospitals in Israel have started to involve virtual reality in the treatment of stroke patients.
As part of the therapy, a computer program is used which helps in projecting on a screen actual motions of patients' hands when tennis balls are virtually thrown at them from all directions.
University of Haifa computer scientist Dr. Larry Manevitz, his research fellow Dr. Uri Feintuch, who is also a neuroscientist at Hebrew University, and a computer science graduate student Eugene Mednikov have developed the new program.
The researchers said that the new program enabled the computer to learn to differentiate between different types of brain injuries, i.e. cerebrovascular accident (CVA) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Upon further testing, the researchers realised that the computer had gained the ability to accurately diagnose, between 90 to 98 per cent of the time, whether the patient was healthy or had suffered a traumatic brain injury or a stroke.
Although the new study is an important advance in the field of computer science, it will not directly help society.
The researchers, however, say that the next phase of their project, in which the computer is able to do things that doctors cannot, is really very important.
"As soon as the computer identified the injury, we have a model that we can use for further testing and analysis - something that cannot be done on live patients. Using a computer model, we can experiment with different treatment options and decide which will be the most effective. The computer can also define how much the patient will be able to rehabilitate. These are things that would take a long time for medicine to accomplish, and some of them cannot be done at all," said Dr. Manevitz.
The researcher says that the computer can simulate how the patient will respond if the virtual reality therapy throws more balls to the patient's left side than to the right or if any other change would be beneficial for rehabilitation. Besides, it can quickly examine tens of different possibilities in a very short time.
Using the computer will help avoid spending time on treatments that will not benefit the patient or can cause harm.
"Our next step is to find similarities in the behaviour of people in sub-groups of brain injuries. The human eye may not be able to see such similarities, but a computer would easily be able to pick them up. As soon as we are able to identify similarities in different sub-groups, new avenues of effective treatment will open up for doctors," said Dr. Manevitz.