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Eye care? Let AI give a hand

Ocular coherence tomography is becoming a standard exam to explore the retina. Making sense of it remains tricky and AI may help. Image credit: University College London

Technology progress in medicine is providing more and more data, which is great. At the same time these data need to be processed and … understood. Take the Ocular Coherence Tomography (OCT). It allows an ophthalmologist to look at a patient’s retina with micro-metric resolution, both the surface of the retina and its structure, its layers. It takes a lot of experience to interpret the OCT results. Moorfield hospital in UK, one of the largest eye hospital in the world, every day handles around 1,000 OCT of patients referred by primary care doctors. This is overwhelming the capability of the hospital.

Researchers at Google have trained DeepMind having it (an algorithm) looking at 14,884 OCT retinal scans. The results are impressive: the DeepMind algorithm resulted in 94.5% correct referrals, that is au pair with the very best ophthalmologists (and there are not so many of them). More than that. It takes DeepMind 30″ to analyse an OCT and provide a referral (urgent, semi-urgent, routine, observation). The nice thing is that any primary doctor could connect to DeepMind and submit the OCT for analyses. Based on the response the patient can be referred to Moorfields if a specific follow up is required.

According to the researchers the result obtained can be compared to the development of a prototype that works really well. The next step is transforming the prototype into an industrial product that can be applied to the mass market.

This is just another example where AI can flank humans as a most effective tool but it is not intended to replace them.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.