Research: Artificial intelligence quickly, accurately detects eye diseases

By Allen Cone

Aug. 14 (UPI) -- An artificial intelligence program can quickly and accurately spot signs of eye disease, according to a new study.

Researchers from Moorfields and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology in Britain developed machine learning that can recommend the correct referral decision for more than 50 eye diseases with 94 percent accuracy, matching the world's leading eye experts. Their findings, done in collaboration with Google's DeepMind Health, were published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine.


"The AI technology we're developing is designed to prioritize patients who need to be seen and treated urgently by a doctor or eye care professional," Dr. Pearse Keane, consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said in a press release. "If we can diagnose and treat eye conditions early, it gives us the best chance of saving people's sight. With further research it could lead to greater consistency and quality of care for patients with eye problems in the future."


Medical providers are having a hard time keeping up with the number of eye scans needed to be performed as people live longer.

"The time it takes to analyse these scans, combined with the sheer number of scans that healthcare professionals have to go through [over 1,000 a day at Moorfields alone], can lead to lengthy delays between scan and treatment -- even when someone needs urgent care," Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder and head of Applie AI at DeepMind, said in a blog post. "If they develop a sudden problem, such as a bleed at the back of the eye, these delays could even cost patients their sight."

Ophthalmologists use optical coherence tomography scans rather than X-rays or ultrasound to generate 3D images of the back of the eye to spot irregularities and other signs of eye disease.

Two years ago, the hospital system and DeepMind Health announced a five-year partnership to explore whether artificial intelligence could help clinicians improve the care for their patients.

This study sought to develop a computer system to spot sight-threatening diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration and diabetic eye disease.

They trained the AI system to identify 10 features of eye disease from the scans, utilizing mathematical systems for identifying patterns in images or data collected from 14,884 patients across Britain. The system recommended a referral decision based on the most urgent conditions detected.


In comparison, clinicians also viewed the same OCT scans and made their own referral decisions.

The researchers noted their system explains to eye care professionals how it arrived at the analysis and can be used with different types of eye scanners.

They next want to test the system in clinical trials and ultimately across all 30 of their Moorfields hospitals and community clinics.

"The results of this pioneering research with DeepMind are very exciting and demonstrate the potential sight-saving impact AI could have for patients," Dr. Peng Tee Khaw, director of the NIHR Biomedical Research Center at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said. "I am in no doubt that AI has a vital role to play in the future of healthcare, particularly when it comes to training and helping medical professionals so that patients benefit from vital treatment earlier than might previously have been possible."

DeepMind was founded in London in 2010 and acquired by Google in 2014 and is now part of the parent company Alphabet.

"We set up DeepMind Health because we believe artificial intelligence can help solve some of society's biggest health challenges, like avoidable sight loss, which affects millions of people across the globe," Suleyman said in a Moorefields press release. "These incredibly exciting results take us one step closer to that goal and could, in time, transform the diagnosis, treatment and management of patients with sight threatening eye conditions, not just at Moorfields, but around the world."


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