Zebra Medical's latest algorithm detects vertebral compression fractures

Spine
The new algorithm uses deep learning to distinguish between vertebral compression fractures and more common problems, such as bone spurs.

Zebra Medical is adding another deep-learning algorithm to its medical image analysis platform. The new addition, which can identify vertebral fractures, joins other algorithms that can detect bone density, fatty liver and coronary artery calcification.

With its Image Analytics Platform, Zebra is teaching software to read and make diagnoses from a variety of medical images and targeting a growing need for faster, more accurate radiology services. The goal is to create a system that can flag particular findings or diseases in images, helping physicians catch conditions early before they progress.

Vertebral compression fractures are “remarkably common,” but less than one-third of them are “effectively diagnosed,” the company said in a statement. They are the most common fracture in patients with osteoporosis and occur when a vertebra becomes compressed and collapses, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Detecting such fractures early could help ward off osteoporotic fractures and save health systems billions of dollars, the company said.

The Zebra VCF algorithm uses deep learning to differentiate between vertebral compression factors and other conditions, such as bone spurs and degeneration of the vertebral endplate where it meets the disc. The algorithm isn’t yet available commercially, but once launched, it will be offered to healthcare providers as part of the Image Analytics platform, as well as to consumers. Until last November, Zebra’s algorithms had only been available to care providers.

"Research has shown that radiologists miss up to 50% of vertebral fractures, since they are usually focused on looking for other features,” said Dr. Kassim Javair, clinical lead of the UK Fracture Liaison Service report from Oxford University’s department of rheumatology, in the statement. “In the UK, with our proven coordinated care programs for effective fracture prevention (Fracture Liaison Services), we believe that early detection of such fractures can yield both better care and significant healthcare cost savings.” VCF is estimated to cost the NHS £1.5 billion annually.