Using Artificial Intelligence to detect symptoms of eye diseases

Image courtesy of http://www.gvgai.net/
Image courtesy of http://www.gvgai.net/

Machine learning and artificial intelligence have been abuzz in the tech world over the last few months, with Google and Facebook both integrating them into their search functions.  The results: more custom feeds and results and a lot more context.  However, it all doesn’t end here, with Google recently teaming up with the Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, AI Algorithms will be trained to help identify patterns in eye scans that will make it easier to diagnose eye related diseases, like Diabetic Retinopathy, macular degeneration, etc.

According to the WHO’s Universal Eye Health: A Global Action Plan (2014-2019), 80% of eye impairments are preventable, but the biggest issue the developing world, Zambia included, faces is access to medical professionals that can help diagnose some of these diseases in their early stages.  Zambia as a whole is short of General Practice Doctors, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the ratio of eye doctors in Zambia to patients was some ridiculous 1:100,000 figure.

Google’s DeepMind specialises in artificial intelligence, building computer programs that teach themselves to find patterns and correlations in complex data that human brains struggle to find. This kind of research, especially a particular technique known as deep learning, is now ready to be applied in the real world.  My analysing thousands of eye scans, DeepMind will be trained to identify patterns that can help identify early symptoms of eye diseases and hopefully help treat them.

In a 5 July press release, Google’s DeepMind website published the following:

We founded DeepMind to make the world a better place by developing technologies that help address some of society’s toughest challenges. So we’re excited to announce our first medical research project with an NHS Trust. We’ll be working with Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, one of the world’s leading eye hospitals with a 200 year track record in clinical care, research and education. This collaboration came about when Pearse Keane, a consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields, contacted DeepMind to explore how we could work together on two specific conditions that cause sight loss: diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Together, these affect more than 625,000 people in the UK and over 100 million people worldwide.

Whether it is too early for the rest of the world to get excited about this news, the implications of it, and the possibilities it presents are quite exciting and far reaching. #ICTZM