Artificial intelligence as good as top experts at detecting eye diseases

Posted: Monday 13 August 2018

An artificial intelligence (AI) system can recommend the correct referral decision for over 50 eye diseases with 94% accuracy – matching world leading eye experts.

The system developed by researchers at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, DeepMind Health and UCL could help doctors and other eye health professionals spot serious conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) earlier and prioritise patients who urgently need treatment.

The breakthrough research, published in Nature Medicine, describes how machine learning technology has been successfully trained on thousands of historic de-personalised eye scans to identify features of eye disease and recommend how patients should be referred for care. It is hoped that the technology could revolutionise the way professionals carry out eye tests, allowing them to spot conditions earlier and prioritise patients with the most serious eye diseases before irreversible damage sets in.

More than 285 million people worldwide live with some form of sight loss, including more than two million people in the UK. Eye diseases remain one of the biggest causes of sight loss, and many can be prevented with early detection and treatment.

Dr Pearse Keane, consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and NIHR Clinician Scientist at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology said:

“The number of eye scans we’re performing is growing at a pace much faster than human experts are able to interpret them. There is a risk that this may cause delays in the diagnosis and treatment of sight-threatening diseases, which can be devastating for patients.

“The AI technology we’re developing is designed to prioritise patients who need to be seen and treated urgently by a doctor or eye care professional. 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.”

The next step is for the research to go through clinical trials to explore how this technology might improve patient care in practice, and regulatory approval before it can be used in hospitals and other clinical settings.

If clinical trials are successful in demonstrating that the technology can be used safely and effectively, Moorfields will receive free use of any resulting technology across all of their UK hospitals and community services.

Elaine Manna, 71 from north London and mother of three, went blind in her left eye from wet AMD.

She is now being treated at Moorfields Eye Hospital to save the remaining sight in her right eye. She said: “I lost the sight in my left eye in the year 2000 after noticing a sudden blurring of my vision. A few weeks went by and I was starting to get really worried. A doctor then told me I had a bleed at the back of my eye that needed to be treated urgently but it proved too late to save my sight.

“AMD has had a major impact on my life. I love going to the theatre but I find it difficult to see people’s faces and I struggle to find my way around dimly lit rooms. I really hope that technology can help people like me in the future.”

Cathy Yelf, chief executive of the Macular Society, said: “Macular disease is the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK, affecting 600,000 people. It is an extremely debilitating disease and timely treatment for patients with wet AMD, such as Elaine, is vital. Pressure on eye clinics has resulted in delays for many patients, which has tragically led to unnecessary sight loss. We’re excited by this latest development and hope in time this technology will alleviate the pressure on clinics and mean patients will get the urgent treatment they need.”

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