Artificial intelligence as good as human doctors at spotting early signs of blindness

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Artificial intelligence is now as good as human doctors at spotting early signs of blindness, a new collaboration between DeepMind and the NHS has shown.

The new a system can spot 50 eye problems including as age-related macular degeneration and diabetic eye disease with 94 per cent accuracy and even provide a diagnosis for the one in four cases when experts cannot reach a consensus.

Doctors are hopeful that it will speed up treatment for people who can wait up to 16 weeks for tests, according to charities, because of current shortages in the NHS.

To develop the algorithm, programmers at DeepMind were given access to thousands of eye-scans from Moorfields Eye Hospital which they used to train their system to spot dozens of diseases over 18 months.

Dr Pearse Keane, consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields said: “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.”

Nearly two million people in Britain suffer from some kind of sight loss, but if treated early enough, in many cases ongoing deterioration can be prevented.

The next step is for the research to go through clinical trials to explore how this technology might improve patient care, and then if successful, will be rolled out throughout Britain.

Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary, said: “This is hugely exciting and exactly the type of technology which will benefit the NHS in the long term and improve patient care.”

Charities said early diagnosis could make a ‘huge difference’ to patients who were often forced to wait months to be diagnosed and begin treatment.

Cathy Yelf, chief executive of the Macular Society, said: “People with wet AMD are supposed to be fast tracked but we know some people aren’t getting treatment for up to 16 weeks.

“Pressure on eye clinics has resulted in delays for many patients, which has tragically led to unnecessary sight loss.

“We’re excited by this latest development and hope in time this technology will alleviate the pressure on clinics and mean patients will get the urgent treatment they need.”

Mustafa Suleyman, Co-founder and Head of Applied AI at DeepMind Health, said: “We set up DeepMind Health because we believe artificial intelligence can help solve some of society’s biggest health challenges, like avoidable sight loss, which affects millions of people across the globe

“These incredibly exciting results take us one step closer to that goal and could, in time, transform the diagnosis, treatment and management of patients with sight threatening eye conditions, not just at Moorfields, but around the world.”

The new research was published in the journal Nature Medicine.

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