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Deep neural network provides robust detection of disease biomarkers in real time

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Sophisticated systems for the detection of biomarkers — molecules such as DNA or proteins that indicate the presence of a disease — are crucial for real-time diagnostic and disease-monitoring devices.

Holger Schmidt, distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC Santa Cruz, and his group have long been focused on developing unique, highly sensitive devices called optofluidic chips to detect biomarkers.

Schmidt’s graduate student Vahid Ganjalizadeh led an effort to use machine learning to enhance their systems by improving its ability to accurately classify biomarkers. The deep neural network he developed classifies particle signals with 99.8 percent accuracy in real time, on a system that is relatively cheap and portable for point-of-care applications, as shown in a new paper in Nature Scientific Reports.

When taking biomarker detectors into the field or a point-of-care setting such as a health clinic, the signals received by the sensors may not be as high quality as those in a lab or a controlled environment. This may be due to a variety of factors, such as the need to use cheaper chips to bring down costs, or environmental characteristics such as temperature and humidity.

To address the challenges of a weak signal, Schmidt and his team developed a deep neural network that can identify the source of that weak signal with high confidence. The researchers trained the neural network with known training signals, teaching it to recognize potential variations it could see, so that it can recognize patterns and identify new signals with very high accuracy.