Tackling diagnostic medicine with AI, Viz launches a tool to identify strokes

On average, someone in the U.S. has a stroke every 40 seconds; it is the third leading cause of death in the country, killing more than 140,000 people annually and leaving hundreds of thousands more with long-term disabilities that cost the healthcare system billions.

One of the reasons strokes are so deadly and debilitating is that they’re hard to diagnose, and time is of the essence when the occur.

One startup — backed to the tune of $2.5 million by former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt’s investment firm, Innovation Endeavors, and Yahoo founder Jerry Yang’s AME Ventures — thinks it has found a solution, harnessing the power of artificial intelligence.

Viz, a San Francisco-based startup launched by London-educated neurosurgeon Chris Mansi, is using artificial intelligence to more rapidly identify stroke victims in order to ensure treatment faster, potentially saving lives and millions of dollars in medical expenses.

Mansi, who worked at Queens Square and Kings College Hospital in London, which houses the National Hospital of Neurology and Neurosurgery, had long believed that artificial intelligence could improve first responders’ and emergency room doctors’ abilities to diagnose illnesses. That initial diagnosis could ensure faster treatment and potentially mean the difference between death, a lifetime with a disability or a recovery.

While at Stanford pursuing an MBA, Mansi met David Golan, who had similar ideas. The two founded Viz and have been developing its technology ever since.

Viz uses machine learning to identify anomalies in brain scans that even physicians have a hard time spotting, Mansi says. There aren’t that many highly trained neuroscientists in the world, and the artificial intelligence from Viz puts their knowledge at the fingertips of doctors anywhere, he said.

Viz chose to start with neurological conditions, in part because it’s the field that Mansi knows best, and it’s an instance where time does matter.

Every 15 minutes that a stroke goes untreated means significant ramifications for a patient. “It’s the difference between walking rather than being in a nursing home,” says Mansi.

That’s a critical difference. Stroke patients cost the U.S. healthcare system $74 billion in medicare payments. That’s a hefty number for what is a treatable condition, if recognized in time. And there’s the problem, according to Mansi.

Only three in every 100 patients are being treated properly for stroke. The conditions aren’t diagnosed properly and victims aren’t able to reach hospitals where proper care is available, he says.

The technology was persuasive enough to convince Innovation and AME to commit capital. “We’ve been looking for really smart teams that have the right domain expertise abut what they’re trying to do,” says Dror Berman, a co-founder of Innovation Endeavors and a director on the Viz board. “Viz is solving a really big problem that no one else is solving, given how hard it is to look into brains scans and the very limited expertise of physicians.”