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Thursday Complexity Post
June 26, 2014

Family Photos Hold Clues to Medical Diagnoses  


Family pictures may record more than milestone events and the little incidents we love to remember. New technology may help doctors identify rare genetic conditions by analyzing ordinary digital photos of faces. Facial recognition software may even be useful in identifying presently unknown rare disorders with symptoms that baffle families and doctors.


A New Scientist story by Andy Coghlan explains that while genetic tests exist for common conditions, such as Down's syndrome, genetic tests for many more unusual conditions aren't available because the gene variants that cause them haven't been discovered. A story in The Independent by Charlie Cooper explains that 30 to 40 percent of genetic disorders involve some kind of change to the face or skull. Software developed at Oxford University by medical researchers collaborating with the university's Department of Engineering Science was initially "trained" by analyzing thousands of photos of people diagnosed with eight genetic disorders. Coughlin's story explains that the computer "learned" to identify each condition from a pattern of 36 features in each face.


Christoffer Nellaker, who designed the software with Oxford colleague Andrew Zisserman, believes it can help family doctors and general pediatricians make preliminary diagnoses of health conditions that may have puzzled them. In the future, Nellaker told The Independent, a doctor anywhere in the world should be able to take an ordinary smartphone picture of a patient, run a computer analysis, and find out which genetic disorder a patient is likely to have. The technology isn't meant to replace traditional diagnoses, but to aid it by giving doctors information not otherwise available to them.


Alastair Kent, director of the Genetic Alliance UK, a charitable organization dedicated to helping people with genetic disorders, told New Scientist that because few physicians are skilled in the diagnostic use of facial analysis, families often wait years to learn the cause of their children's problems. Many of the combinations of facial characteristics that have diagnostic significance would be undetectable to a layman.


The Oxford database now has nearly 3,000 photos, and the software can recognize 90 disorders. As the database grows, the software will enable researchers to study groups of patients with undiagnosed problems who share similar facial features and skull structures. That could allow researchers to identify presently unknown disorders and the explore the gene variants that cause them, which could potentially improvement treatment.


Some visual characteristics associated with genetic disorders are well documented. Scientists studying Abraham Lincoln's height, long arms, and big hands and feet believe he had Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that also impacts the connective tissue and heart. NBA prospect Isaiah Austin's dreams of a basketball career were dashed by a diagnosis of Marfan syndrome. Williams syndrome and DiGeorge syndrome, both genetic disorders that impact learning and behavior, have been associated with certain combinations of facial characteristics. 



Events of interest 


Leading Organizations to Health is a 10-month program on change leadership that integrates leading edge theories (from complexity, relational coordination, positive psychology, adult development and other domains) with advanced facilitation skills and peer coaching, all in a highly experiential and reflective learning environment.  

The 1st International Conference on Systems and Complexity in Health, November 13-14, 2014 in Washington, DC will bring together for the first time leading thinkers and researchers to explore and exchange insights under the theme: The value of systems and complexity sciences for healthcare: An imperative for the 21st century. 


Remember PlexusCalls!



Friday, June 27, 2014- 1-2 PM ET

The Growing Crisis in Cancer Care
Guests:  Jimmy Lin, William Maples, Noah Zanville, and Trish Silber


What are the odds you'll get cancer in the next 20 years?

Are there  enough doctors, nurses and resources to meet the cancer challenge? 

What will cancer cost families, private institutions and the public?   


The World Health Organization's World Cancer Report estimates that new cancer cases will rise from 14 million a year to nearly 22 million a year within the next two decade. In the U.S., the American Society of Clinical Oncology predicts cancer will become the leading cause of death, surpassing heart disease, in a mere 16 years. The number of U.S. cases is expected to increase nearly 45 percent by 2030, from 1.6 million cases a year to 2.3 million a year. Aging populations is a big factor in the increase, and while there have been some treatment breakthroughs, costs are rising and the influx of new patients will challenge hospitals and physicians. Join the conversation to learn more and hear some ideas for solutions.



Friday, July 11, 2014- 1-2 PM ET

Workplaces of the Future
Guests: Thomas Lockwood, Robert Peck, Sharon Benjamin               


CEOs want workplace design that fosters innovation, but what does that mean? Can open space for collaboration and closed spaces for concentration be successfully combined? More people want to work at home, but they want amenities of home when they go to work. And what happens to their space then they're away? Is the personal work station going the way of the typewriter? These guests know the issues and the trends.



Healthcare PlexusCalls

Wednesday, July 16, 2014- 1-2 PM ET

New Skills and Structures for New Ways of Working Together
Guests: Dov Pollack               


Healthcare is changing rapidly. The Affordable Care Act brings new patients and changes in reimbursement. Scientific research is bringing new treatments and therapies. Increase in complexity is creating the need for more collaboration and, sometimes, the need for new organizational structures. What is your organization doing to learn, change and thrive?



See more upcoming PlexusCalls on the Plexus Calendar.  

Audio from all PlexusCall series is available by searching the iTunes store for plexuscalls. Or, visit under Resources/Call Series. 


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