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Eastern medicine meets Western science.

Eastern medicine meets Western science

When practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine ask patients to stick out their tongues, the doctors say "Ah-ha." Relying on experience, rules of thumb and intuition, these doctors link the color, shape and surface features of their patients' tongues to specific health disorders. For example, an unusually blue tongue with a whitish, dense-looking surface, or "fur," might signal to a Chinese doctor that the person attached to the tongue suffers from emphysema, a chronic respiratory disease. Though Eastern doctors have used tongue analysis for centuries to make diagnoses, practitioners do not agree on how the technique works, notes computer scientist Yao Zhang of the ADA Research and Development Group in Beltsville, Md. Along with co-workers there and at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Md., Zhang hopes to add scientific spice to the ancient art of tongue analysis.

They begin with a color image of a patient's tongue. The researchers then convert this analog image into a pattern of digits that a computer can manipulate. Using image processing techniques, they can generate tongue images that are immune to the idiosyncrasies of how different doctors observe their patients. And by generating a range of images that highlight different tongue features, the researchers hope to probe the doctors' actual diagnostic techniques, Zhang says.

Although the digital image analysis system remains in an early stage of development, Zhang says his group expects to develop the method into a computerized expert system that may help Chinese doctors to practice their art while uncovering some of the medical basis for its apparent utility.
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Title Annotation:diagnostic techniques of traditional Chinese medicine
Author:Amato, Ivan
Publication:Science News
Date:Mar 17, 1990
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