By Leah Small, University Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU)
When recent Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) graduate Ellen Korcovelos emailed [University of Toronto computer science Professor Graeme Hirst] she didn’t imagine he would fulfill her request to meet him, let alone invite her to travel to Toronto to conduct research in his lab.
Korcovelos was intrigued by a 2009 Hirst study in which he and his U of T team performed a computerized textual analysis of selected novels written by Agatha Christie between the ages of 28 and 82. The researchers counted the number of repeated words and phrases, and the use of indefinite words such as anything, thing and something. They concluded Christie’s vocabulary declined significantly as she aged, which the researchers suggested was due to Alzheimer’s disease and not the natural aging process. Christie wasn’t formally diagnosed with the disease during her life.
For eight months, Korcovelos has worked with Hirst and his team [including alumnus Dr. Frank Rudzicz, a researcher at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and an assistant professor in the department of computer science, and department alumna Katie Fraser (PhD 2016)] to develop a computer algorithm with the ability to identify speech irregularities in patients with various forms of dementia. The goal is to develop an objective test for identifying and measuring the progression of the disease.
The opportunity has been a dream come true for Korcovelos.
"This was the man who started my passion for computational linguistics,” Korcovelos said [of Hirst]. “He is probably the kindest mentor I’ve ever had and he’s definitely been super enthusiastic about the entire process.”
Read the full story at VCU News.