Latest DeepMind AI can spot more than 50 different eye diseases in an instant

14 Aug 2018

Image: anucha maneechote/Shutterstock

Google-owned DeepMind is to collaborate with a UK hospital to help doctors spot more than 50 different eye diseases using AI.

When it isn’t creating artificial intelligence (AI) capable of destroying human opponents in a game of Go, Google-owned DeepMind is trying to build other systems that could transform healthcare, among other things.

Now, the UK-based company has revealed a joint research partnership with Moorfields Eye Hospital that could help spot sight-threatening eye diseases much quicker than before.

Publishing its findings in Nature Medicine, the company said that its latest AI can quickly run through eye scans taken from routine clinical practice and identify more than 50 serious diseases as accurately as world-leading expert doctors.

Under existing systems, ophthalmologists use 3D images called optical coherence tomography (OCT) to create a detailed map of a person’s eye.

While helpful, they can sometimes be hard to read, requiring lengthy analysis that could prolong a disease’s damaging effects or, worse still, could suddenly see a person lose their sight entirely.

How it works

DeepMind, meanwhile, said that its system can detect the features of eye diseases in a matter of seconds and can also let doctors know who, among hundreds of patients, is most in need of treatment.

To achieve this, the researchers who built it combined two different neural networks:

  • The first network – known as the segmentation network – analyses the OCT scan to create a map of features, including irregular fluid and lesions.
  • The second network – known as the classification network – is the one that analyses the map and gives clinicians the diagnosis and referral recommendation.

This, the team said, overcomes the ‘black box’ problem whereby AI systems often find it hard to understand why exactly it is making a particular recommendation.

Helping humans keep up

Speaking of its potential, Dr Pearse Keane, a consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital, said: “The number of eye scans we’re performing is growing at a pace much faster than human experts are able to interpret them.

“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.”

DeepMind said another major benefit of the system is that it can easily be applied to different types of eye scanners, meaning it can be distributed globally with relative ease.

The next step for the company is to get approval for clinical trials and, if it passes this process, it would be made available for free in 30 UK hospitals for five years.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic