April 3, 2019
An algorithm developed by DeepMind can assess eye scans far faster – and as accurately – as some leading experts, Eanna Kelly reports in Science Business.
It’s set to be the first breakthrough AI system for health, according to Pearse Keane, the ophthalmologist who initiated the collaboration with the artificial intelligence company, which is owned by Google’s parent corporation Alphabet.
Keane, who in addition to practicing at Moorfields eye hospital in London is a researcher at University College London, says the new system can circumvent the severe shortage of experts who can interpret the millions of eye scans performed each year.
The DeepMind algorithm is trained to spot indicators of eye disease and recommend how patients should be referred for care. The technology allows experts to prioritize patients with the most serious eye diseases, before irreversible damage sets in, said Keane. “The results are jaw-dropping,” he told the Wired Health 2019 conference in London on Tuesday. “Ophthalmology will be the first field transformed by AI.”
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Early results for the system show a correct referral rate of 94 percent for over 50 eye disorders, putting it on the same level as people with 20-plus years of experience in the field, said Alan Karthikesalingam, a senior clinician scientist at DeepMind’s health division.
The algorithm, trained on 14,884 retinal scans, processes an image of an eye in under 30 seconds. The read-outs rank scans into four categories: urgent, semi-urgent, routine and observation only.
The technology could help drastically speed up the pace of assessing patients who are referred from general practitioners.
The next step is for the DeepMind research to go through formal clinical trials, before getting a marketing approval from regulators.
The code is being re-written for real-life use. “The prototype is like a concept car, but there’s 10 people from DeepMind ready to tweak it. Now we need to go to a production car,” Keane said.