AI can now spot how and when neurons die

Understanding when and why a cell dies is fundamental to the study of human development, disease, and aging. For neurodegenerative diseases such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s, identifying dead and dying neurons is critical to developing and testing new treatments. But identifying dead cells can be tricky and has been a constant problem throughout my career as a neuroscientist.

Until now, scientists have had to manually mark which cells look alive and which look dead under the microscope. Dead cells have a characteristic balled-up appearance that is relatively easy to recognize once you know what to look for. My research team and I have employed a veritable army of undergraduate interns paid by the hour to scan through thousands of images and keep a tally of when each neuron in a sample appears to have died. Unfortunately, doing this by hand is a slow, expensive, and sometimes error-prone process.