This New Search Engine Helps Doctors Diagnose Rare, Obscure Diseases

A quarter of rare diseases normally take between 5 to 30 years to diagnose; this tool hopes to streamline that process

Though Dr. House has no problem diagnosing rare diseases, in reality those “one in 2,000″ conditions are exceptionally hard to pin down. In fact, a quarter of rare diseases take between 5 to 30 years to diagnose, MIT Technology Review writes.

Today, stumped doctors increasingly rely upon Google for easing the diagnosis process. But search engines such as Google are not designed to help a physician weed out possibilities behind an obscure set of symptoms. Google’s algorithms, which rank pages according to the number of times they are linked to by other heavily weighted pages, work against pages dedicated to rare diseases that likely only see a handful of page views a day.

To fill this gap, researchers from Denmark built a new search engine dedicated to rare diseases called FindZebra. Tech Review explains how it works:

The magic sauce in FindZebra is the index it uses to hunt for results. These guys have created this index by crawling a specially selected set of curated  databases on rare diseases. These include the Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man database, the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center and Orphanet

They then use the open source information retrieval tool Indri  to search this index via a website with a conventional search engine interface. The result is FindZebra.

Comparisons show that results attained with Google using the same variables are significantly less relevant than those found with FindZebra. The tool is still under development but is publicly available at

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