Google's sister company DeepMind develops AI to triage eye care patients

Alphabet's artificial intelligence arm DeepMind published results of the first phase of its research partnership with Moorfields Eye Hospital in London in Nature Medicine Aug. 13.

DeepMind, also based in London, signed an agreement with Moorfields Eye Hospital in 2016 to access and clean its clinical data. Through the partnership, DeepMind aims to develop an AI system that recommends treatment and referral options for various eye diseases, based on eye scans patients receive during routine clinical care.

Using Moorfields Eye Hospital's clinical dataset, DeepMind created an AI system that combines two separate artificial neural networks, or computer networks that mimic the way a human brain learns.

The first neural network analyzes optical coherence tomography scans — the images eyecare professionals use to diagnose eye conditions — to detect different types of eye tissue and disease symptoms, such as hemorrhages, lesions or irregular fluid.

The second neural network analyzes the output from the first network to determine potential diagnoses and referral recommendations for more than 50 eye diseases. The network presents its recommendations as percentages so clinicians can evaluate the AI system's confidence in its assessment.

DeepMind's goal for the project is to reduce the time between a patient's initial eye scan and receiving treatment by automatically triaging them during routine clinical care. However, the team noted there's still work to be done, namely turning their research into a product to put through clinical trials.

"These are early results, but they show that our system could handle the wide variety of patients found in routine clinical practice," reads a DeepMind blog post on the research findings. "In the long term, we hope this will help doctors quickly prioritize patients who need urgent treatment — which could ultimately save sight."

If this technology is validated for general use by clinical trials, DeepMind said clinicians at Moorfields Eye Hospital will be able to use it for free across all 30 of their hospitals and clinics in the U.K. for an initial period of five years.

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