Using AI to Beat Macular Disease

Posted: Thursday 13 February 2020

We are currently funding a research project using Artificial Intelligence to analyse eye scans. Research like this, funded by macular support groups around the UK, is improving our understanding of how macular disease progresses and how we can stop it stealing our sight. 

To find out more about the project and what this means for the future of patients with macular disease we spoke to the lead researcher, Dr Pearse Keane:

"From an early stage of my medical degree, I was interested in ophthalmology. I have always dreamt about finding new and better ways to improve the outlook for people with a sight-threatening disease.

New technologies

"Ophthalmology has always been one of the most innovative and technology-driven of all the medical specialties. From an early stage, ophthalmologists have used lasers and microsurgical techniques, and we are leading the way in the creation of new treatments such as stem cell and gene therapies.

"In simple terms, I like to identify exciting new technologies – such as virtual reality, Artificial Intelligence (AI), or smartphone digital technologies – and see if they could have uses in medicine. It was this interest in new technologies that led me to initiate a collaboration between Moorfields Eye Hospital and Google DeepMind.

The project

"I was honoured to receive a research grant from the Macular Society. The aim is to apply the Moorfields/DeepMind AI system to the Moorfields AMD Database – the world’s largest database of eyes with wet AMD.

"This will provide insights into how the various treatments for wet AMD differ in terms of their effect on the retina, and allow better prediction of whether (and when) early AMD turns to late. Perhaps most importantly, we aim to make the anonymised raw data from our study available to the academic community, to improve research all around the world.

The big questions

"AI will change the way we manage chronic eye disease, in particular macular disease. It will bring world-class expertise out of the big hospital eye clinics and allow it to be more easily applied in the community and perhaps even in the home.

"It also has the potential to help us answer big questions about the “how and why” of macular disease: Why do some treatments work well in some patients but not in others? Which patients are most likely to see their vision get worse? Why do some patients lose vision irreversibly due to scarring? 

Thank you for funding research like mine

"Vision is our most precious sense, and I strongly believe that prevention is better than cure. Funding from the Macular Society gives talented young members of my research group the support and equipment to find answers to some of the most challenging questions in macular disease."