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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Scientists are working on a way to use AI to create quantitative measurements for chronic pain.

Why it matters: Chronic pain is an epidemic in the U.S., but doctors can't measure discomfort as they can other vital signs. Building methods that can objectively measure pain can help ensure that the millions in need of palliative care aren't left to suffer.

What's happening: Late last month, scientists from IBM and Boston Scientific presented new research outlining a framework that uses machine learning and activity monitoring devices to capture and analyze biometric data that can correspond to the perception of pain.

  • The researchers are using biomarkers collected in clinical studies involving patients undergoing spinal cord stimulation, including information on movement collected from smartwatches, sleep data, heart rate levels and even voice recordings.
  • AI is being employed to sift through the results in the hopes of identifying patterns that might enable doctors to "read" a patient's pain levels through that more granular data.

What they're saying: "We want to use all the tools of predictive analytics and get to the point where we can predict where people's pain is going to be in the future, with enough time to give doctors the chance to intervene," says Jeff Rogers, senior manager for digital health at IBM Research.

Background: According to one estimate, more than 100 million Americans struggle with chronic pain, at an annual cost of as much as $635 billion in painkillers and lost productivity.

  • Yet doctors' methods for pain measurement remain rudimentary, like asking patients to report their pain on a scale of 1 to 10, or even just pointing to cartoon faces with different emotions.

What's next: Rogers hopes the research can lead to medical devices that could predict chronic pain signals ahead of suffering and adjust their response accordingly.

Go deeper

58 mins ago - World

India sets new COVID world record as oxygen demand jumps seven-fold

COVID-19 patients being treated with free oxygen at a makeshift clinic in Indirapuram, Uttar Pradesh, India. Photo: Rebecca Conway/Getty Images

India has seen demand for oxygen jump "seven-fold" as the country set a new world record for daily COVID-19 cases on Thursday, per AP.

By the numbers: India's health ministry reported 412,262 new infections, taking the official tally past 21 million, and 3,980 deaths from the coronavirus in the past 24 hours. The official death toll now stands at 230,168. The actual numbers are believed to be much higher.

3 hours ago - World

U.K. sends patrol ships to British island amid fishing dispute with France

The HMS Tamar, one of the two ships deployed to Jersey. Photo: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

The United Kingdom's government announced Wednesday it has deployed two Royal Navy patrol vessels to the island of Jersey "as a precautionary measure," as tensions over fishing rights escalate with France.

Why it matters: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement the government took the action to protect Jersey against potential threats of "a blockade" of French fishing boats at the island, which is off the coast of northwest France.

Social media's "in-kind contribution to Biden"

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Facebook's continued suspension of Donald Trump's account extends the silencing of Joe Biden's most potent critic — and the current president's control over the national political narrative into his second 100 days.

Why it matters: Biden has been able to successfully focus on COVID-19 relief, his infrastructure plan and fielding his new administration, in part, because Trump hasn't been able to shake his social media muzzle and bray about the migration crisis or any White House misstep.