Professor Mingguang He
Australian researchers have won major funding to develop an artificial intelligence powered eye scan which can screen patients for risk of blinding eye diseases, heart disease and stroke.
A team, led by Professor Mingguang He from the Centre for Eye Research Australia and University of Melbourne, has received $4,988,487 funding over three years from the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) to develop an integrated AI eye screening system.
The technology will be designed for use in primary care settings such as GP clinics, Indigenous health services, eye care clinics, endocrinology and cardiology services to increase access to life and sight-saving screening services.
The system will use AI to pinpoint subtle changes in the retina at the back of eye which show patients are at risk of losing their sight from diabetic eye disease, glaucoma or age-related macular degeneration – or are at higher risk of a life-threatening heart attack or stroke.
Professor He says changes in the retina at the back of the eye can accurately predict risk of cardiovascular disease – and the AI system could lead to an earlier, more convenient and non-invasive method of diagnosis.
“The research aims to increase access to eye checks in regions where people are missing out because of a lack of eye care professionals, provide more consistent diagnosis in optometry clinics, and provide a risk prediction tool for heart attack or stroke in cardiology clinics,” he says.
The new technology will be trialled with more than 1000 patients, including Indigenous people living in remote communities, older Australians and people with diabetes.
“This project will benefit 1.3 million Australians with diabetes by reducing their risk of developing sight-threatening complications and help tackle cardiovascular diseases that affects about one in five Australians and in 2017 accounted for 27 per cent of Australia’s deaths, ” says Professor He.
The AI system will be developed in partnership with the Australian company Eyetelligence Pty Ltd, and the Monash eResearch Centre, which will undertake technology and algorithm development.
Professor He welcomed the generous support of the MRFF which will fund a team including medical researchers, technical developers, industry partners and consumer organisations to translate AI technology into innovative health solutions.
He also acknowledged the support of St Vincent’s Cardiology, led by Professor Andrew Wilson, and many other co-investigators and partners.
The research will also create an “Eye and Systemic Disease AI Open Platform” to help Australia’s health workforce share resources to maximise the benefits of AI technologies for Australian patients.