One of the UK’s best known eye hospitals, Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Trust, has announced a research partnership with the AI (artificial intelligence) arm of IT giant Google, DeepMind.
The aim is to see how technology could possibly help to analyse eye scans, giving clinicians a better understanding of eye disease, at massive scale and at a level of attention to detail only computers can manage, say the new partners.
“Our research with DeepMind has the potential to revolutionise the way professionals carry out eye tests and could lead to earlier detection and treatment of common eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration,” claims one of the project’s leads, Professor Sir Peng Tee Khaw, Director of the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre in Ophthalmology at the Hospital.
“With sight loss predicted to double by the year 2050 it is vital we explore the use of cutting-edge technology to prevent eye disease.”
The project sees Moorfields sharing a set of one million anonymised eye scans with the AI firm, as well as some related anonymous information about eye condition and disease management the institution has collected through routine care over some considerable time. These scans are highly complex, says Khaw’s team, which means as it stands, traditional analysis tools have been unable to explore them fully.
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It also takes eye health professionals considerable time to analyse eye scans, a delay that in the worst case scenario means an impact on how quickly they can meet patients to discuss diagnosis and treatment.
The anonymised bit is important, as that means it should not be possible to identify any individual patients from the scans – and as the dataset is of historic scans, the results may be used to improve future care but won’t affect the care any of our patients receive today.
Moorfields say two million people live with sight loss in the UK, of whom around 360,000 are registered as blind or partially sighted.
Commenting on the deal, Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of DeepMind, notes: “We set up DeepMind because we wanted to use AI to help solve some of society’s biggest challenges, and diabetic retinopathy is the fastest growing cause of blindness worldwide – there are more than 350m sufferers across the planet. I’m really excited to announce this collaboration with leading researchers at Moorfields.
“Detecting eye diseases as early as possible gives patients the best possible chance of getting the right treatments. I really believe that one day this work will be a great benefit to patients across the NHS.
“We are proud of our NHS, and this is one of the ways I think we can help nurses and doctors continue to provide world-class care.”