A university and a think tank in Shimane Prefecture said Monday they plan to develop a diagnosis system that can use artificial intelligence to detect early stage dementia and hope to have it in practical use by the end of March 2020.

Dementia is caused by damage in the brain and treatment becomes difficult as it progresses. The new system to be created by Shimane University and Erisa Co. is aimed at detecting early signs of "mild cognitive impairment" with high accuracy, as people with this condition often develop dementia later.

Under the system, the AI element will learn a number of MRI images showing brain blood flow to identify what changes are characteristic of mild cognitive impairment and early signs of the disease. Studies have already shown that blood flow in a certain area of the brain changes before the brain starts shrinking.

Mild cognitive impairment causes a slight but noticeable decline in cognitive abilities, including memory. Doctors currently check images of brain shrinkage to diagnose the disease, but the accuracy of their judgment depends on their skills.

In an experimental study, Shimane University and Erisa found that AI systems that had "learned" from images of shrunken brains in dementia patients managed to judge cases of dementia with an accuracy of 90 percent or more.

Shimane University's Faculty of Medicine and the Shimane Institute of Health Science, which will also be involved in the project, will provide the medical data needed to develop the new system and carry out research.

"We hope the university's data will be used for the benefit of society," Shimane University President Yasunao Hattori said.

Erisa, based in Matsue, will be in charge of using the AI system and will work to commercialize it.