Breakthrough AI technology could boost diagnosis and treatment of macular disease

Posted: Monday 19 June 2023
Adam Dubis UCL

A groundbreaking project harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to revolutionise both the diagnosis and treatment of macular disease, according to researcher professor Adam Dubis.

Professor Dubis’s team is using artificial intelligence (AI) to scan through large groups of macular disease patients’ clinical data and OCT scans to discover what drives the rate that macular disease progresses, in order to potentially provide earlier diagnoses and personalised treatment.

Professor Dubis said: “For many years, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) was simply ‘you're old and your eyes are going bad.’ Most simply put, that is the characteristics of it. But everyone ages and we can't deal with that.

"But, why do some people make it to 100 years old, and have perfect vision, while some people at 55 to 60 years old start having pathological changes to their eye?

“Just because you start having issues with your eyes, doesn't mean that a single thing has gone wrong, even though all age-related eye disease is lumped together. This is really what interests me.

"As you get old and you get macular degeneration, you can either develop what we call the wet form, where we have treatments, like anti VEGF or the dry form where there is no treatment. But even with the wet form, some people need to be treated every month for the rest of their life, while some people need a year and obviously, there's something different in those eyes.”

By identifying early signs of disease and extracting subtle signals from retinal images, Dubis believes that one day clinicians may be able to categorise patients based on their specific AMD subtype and recommend tailored treatments. This approach could optimise the effectiveness of treatments, minimise trial-and-error, improve clinical trials and ensure patients receive the most appropriate care and treatments for their condition.

He added: “I can't say in the next two years that I'm going to save their sight but hopefully, in three, four or five years the digital tools will be matched up with the drugs so that at least we can stop the vision deteriorating any further. So, the vision may not be perfect, but at least they won't go blind.

“And that is why societies like the Macular Society and those who donate to the Society are really essential. Your donations will make sure that we can do this work and cure these conditions.”

Dubis highlighted that the success of the research relies on the collaboration of both AI technology and human expertise. While the AI system can process and analyse vast amounts of data quickly, it will work alongside healthcare professionals who use their expertise to make informed decisions and provide personalised care.

Talking about his motivation to get the project off the ground Dubis added: “One of the things that motivates me is always trying to make an impact in trying to save sight. I went 25 years not knowing I was colour blind. At home realising that, I can't see nine out of 10 colours that everyone else can is a problem. But it's actually not that bad. I can read a book, I can drive. I can't fly planes, not that I ever intended to, but, saving sight for other people where, the ability to drive, the ability to read a book, the ability to navigate easily by themselves is being lost is something that motivates me in trying to solve this.

“I still do a lot of work on monogenetic diseases, trying to save sight for someone in their teens or early twenties, which is an amazing thing. But, at the same time, one in seven people over the age of 70 has macular degeneration. We're all living older, this is a large number of people and there's a lot more people in that cohort. I think there's a lot of information coming out, but there's still a lot of things that we can learn.”

To find a cure for macular disease, we must fund much more research. To fund more projects like professor Adam Dubis' you can donate today and Beat Macular Disease.