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New medical search engine FindZebra diagnoses rare diseases

FindZebra, co-developed by a University of Copenhagen assistant lecturer diagnoses rare and genetic diseases more accurately

A staggering 40 per cent of Europeans suffering from a rare or genetic disease are misdiagnosed at some point. 25 per cent will go through a diagnosis period of between 5 and 30 years. But with a new search engine co-developed by an assistant lecturer at the University of Copenhagen, answers will be more immediate and to the point.

Rare diseases, defined as occurring in less than 1 out of 2,000 people, affect nearly 30 million people in Europe alone. Diagnosis of these diseases is often incorrect, or takes medical professionals countless hours on sites like Google to correctly determine symptoms and cause.

FindZebra, the new search engine on the block, will replace time spent flipping through books and endlessly searching the net for answers with a simple database system specializing in rare and genetic diseases.

Proven superior to Google

Radu Dragusin is one of the brains behind the masterpiece, and began the FindZebra project as his thesis choice. He originally found the medical search engine problem interesting. Knowing that clinicians generally don’t have the time to focus on rare diseases throughout school, Dragusin knew an alternative solution was needed.

“Google has many articles that are not relevant to a clinician’s search. Although it is preferred and easy to use, Google does not always give the best and most accurate results. It is not helpful to then have to dig and find more information somewhere else on the web,” Dragusin explains in an interview with the University Post.

“Existing search tools take a long time to find the diagnoses, with drop-down menus that are not user-friendly and take forever to sort through. With FindZebra, the search time is significantly less. Compared to Google, FindZebra has proven superior for this specific task giving doctors’ hypotheses on rare and genetic diseases,” said Dragusin.

Time to get to the point

FindZebra is a collaboration between Denmark’s Technical University (DTU) and the University of Copenhagen. The initial project began in 2010, and the first public version was launched in 2011. After improvements and further collaboration with clinicians, it was renamed FindZebra in 2012 and re-released.

FindZebra is a collection of case reports from medical journals, providing only accurate results. With average doctor visit times becoming shorter and shorter, doctors can now spend less time browsing the web for answers and more time getting to the point.

Although Dragusin says that the tool does not guarantee it will provide the correct diagnosis, it provides a hypothesis for medical professionals as to what the patient could be suffering from.

Correct and accurate diagnosis

FindZebra is available for anyone to use. But it is intended for medical professionals. The disclaimer on the website says it is not meant for household use, but Dragusin realizes that there will be individuals who will self diagnose. People have the option of searching their own symptoms if they like the possibility of presenting it to their doctor as a hypothesis, which Dragusin knows could happen, but doesn’t encourage.

In the future, Dragusin hopes to continue collaborating with clinicans to create an even more powerful search tool. The first goal was to make FindZebra known, and the current task is to make it useful in the medical world and provide more correct and accurate diagnoses.

FindZebra is available here.
For full details and FAQ, click here.

Radu may be already known to University Post readers for averting a potential IT disaster. A breach in security on the specialized US-based IEEE group was about to leak 100,000 passwords, but this was found out by him.

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