An artificial intelligence (AI) system that can spot signs of eye disease as accurately as expert doctors has been developed to help make sure serious eye problems are treated as early as possible.
The research was supported by the NIHR Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre, and published in Nature Medicine.
Machine learning technology was used to train the system on thousands of historic de-personalised eye scans, allowing it to learn how to identify features of over 50 eye diseases and decide how patients should be referred for treatment. Doctors reviewed the same scans, showing that the AI was able to make the right referral more than 94% of the time.
Researchers from Moorfields, DeepMind Health and UCL hope that the technology could spot eye conditions earlier and make sure patients with the most serious problems are treated urgently before their eyes are irreversibly damaged.
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.”
Professor Sir Peng Tee Khaw, director of the NIHR Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre said:
“The results of this pioneering research with DeepMind are very exciting and demonstrate the potential sight-saving impact AI could have for patients. 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. This shows the transformative research than can be carried out in the UK combining world leading industry and NIHR/NHS hospital/university partnerships.”
The next steps will be for the system to be tested in clinical trials to see how it could improve patient care, and to receive regulatory approval so it can be used in hospitals.