Informatics

The future of eye diseases with artificial intelligence

Over the last several years, the prevalence of diabetes in adults in the UK has risen sharply, from 1.4 million in 1996 to more than 3.5 million currently. Experts agree that the increase in diabetes diagnosis will continue in the years to come, reaching 5 million by the year 2025. Although some individuals with diabetes can control the condition with prescribed medications, diet, and exercise, others are dependent on insulin to keep complications with diabetes at bay. Unfortunately, no matter the severity of the health issue among adults, diabetic patients have a variety of challenges to work through once diagnosed. One of the lesser known problems which can arise over time is a complication with eyesight, specifically, diabetic retinopathy.

 

Individuals who have diabetic retinopathy experience damaged blood vessels in the light-sensitive tissue found in the retina, at the back of the eye. While the symptoms may be minimal at the onset, diabetic retinopathy can ultimately cause blindness that is irreversible. For many years, screenings for diabetic retinopathy were used to detect the early signs of the condition to help thwart more complex issues in the future. Now, in today’s ever-evolving technological landscape, artificial intelligence is beginning to play a role in early diagnosis for diabetic patients, potentially saving them from going blind.

AI Coming to Fruition

Artificial intelligence has been a buzzword throughout technology firms and in the broad business environment for the last decade, but many view this digital advancement as having a place outside of the medical community. However, Google’s DeepMind project – an AI-based research and development firm – has recently cited progress in the healthcare arena, specifically in diagnosing certain diseases. By analysing medical images and crunching the data from countless retinal scans, the AI machine developed by DeepMind is making great strides forward. The algorithm behind the retinal scanning functionality has the potential to detect the signs of diabetic retinopathy far quicker than humans, giving diabetic patients optimism for the future.

In addition to DeepMind’s work, there are other technology-infused projects continually making progress toward faster, more efficient diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy with the help of artificial intelligence. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States recently granted approval for an AI-based diagnostic system for the detection of diabetic retinopathy. An Iowa-based technology firm has developed and tested IDx-DR, leading to positive trial results across the board. More technology firms are also working diligently on early detection screening tools with artificial intelligence at the helm, giving much hope about avoiding the negative consequences of the disease.

The Need for Early Diagnosis

Within the US and the UK, diabetic retinopathy is one of the leading causes of blindness when left untreated or undetected. As a complication of diabetes, retinopathy can be caused by small hemorrhages in the retina which crates irregular blood vessels and leakage. As time passes without treatment, microaneurysms may occur or fluid may accumulate in the central portion of the retina. This results in vision loss that cannot be reversed. For these reasons, early detection and a quick path to treatment are vital for diabetic patients.

A team of experts in medical negligence claims in the UK explains that while many healthcare providers are aware of the dangers people with diabetes face with eventual retinopathy, screening is not always at the top of mind. When a screening does take place as part of a regular exam, the doctor is tasked with looking for abnormal blood vessels, swelling in the retina, growth of scar tissue, or bleeding in the center of the eye. Without being properly trained to find these issues quickly and accurately, individuals with diabetes may be misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all at a time when it is most critical to their health and well-being. The forward movement of artificial intelligence in diabetic retinopathy screening space offers a method to improve accuracy and timeliness of diagnosis, keeping patients safe from life-altering effects to their eyesight.

The addition of artificial intelligence in healthcare has far-reaching implications, not only for diabetic patients but for those suffering from other conditions as well. Over time, technology firms will be looked to for help in creating more efficient processes, with and without the help of human technicians. As the world continues to evolve, individuals living with chronic conditions, including those with diabetes, have many reasons to be hopeful for the future and their prognosis with the disease.

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