Technology giant Google’s research arm, DeepMind, has entered into a partnership with Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust that could “revolutionise” the way eye tests are performed and lead to common eye diseases being detected much earlier.
As part of the research, Moorfields will provide DeepMind with one million anonymous eye scans that will be used to explore how an artificial intelligence (AI) system could be built to detect the early signs of eye conditions that could be missed by practitioners.
Currently there are two million people living with sight loss in the UK, of which around 360,000 are registered as blind or partially sighted. However, with the right treatment at the right time, many cases are preventable.
The organisations hope that this work will eventually help practitioners to make faster and more accurate diagnoses, leading to better treatment for patients living with eye conditions.
Director of the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre in Ophthalmology at Moorfields Eye Hospital and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, Professor Sir Peng Tee Khaw (pictured), said: "Our research with DeepMind has the potential to revolutionise the way professionals carry out eye tests and could lead to earlier detection and treatment of common eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration. With sight loss predicted to double by the year 2050, it is vital we explore the use of cutting-edge technology to prevent eye disease."
Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of DeepMind, added: “Detecting eye diseases as early as possible gives patients the best possible chance of getting the right treatments. I really believe that one day this work will be a great benefit to patients across the NHS. We are proud of our NHS, and this is one of the ways I think we can help nurses and doctors continue to provide world-class care.”
A number of charities have welcomed news of the partnership, including Fight for Sight, the Macular Society and the Royal National Institute for Blind People. Director of research at Fight for Sight, Dr Dolores Conroy, said: “We are really excited about this collaboration and the potential of machine learning to analyse the thousands of retinal scans taken each week in the NHS, allowing eye health professionals to make faster, more accurate diagnoses and more timely treatments, thus preventing sight loss. In the longer term, this technology could provide important insights into disease mechanisms in wet AMD and diabetic retinopathy.”