Dr Pearse Keane, Consultant Ophthalmologist, analysing an optical coherence tomography scan; Source: Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

AI system can diagnose eye disease as accurately as world-leading experts, new research indicates

DeepMind Health and Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, along with UCL researchers, have created an AI system that can detect more than 50 eye conditions and refer patients for further treatment correctly more than 94% of the time.


[London, UK] An AI system has been proven to diagnose eye disease as accurately as some of the world's leading experts, new research published in the Nature Medicine journal shows.

Developed by researchers from Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, UCL and DeepMind Health, the AI system can read complex eye scans and refer patients for further treatment, recognising more than 50 eye conditions, including glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

“The number of eye scans we’re performing is growing at a pace much faster than human experts are able to interpret them. There is a risk that this may cause delays in the diagnosis and treatment of sight-threatening diseases, which can be devastating for patients,” said Dr Pearse Keane, Consultant Ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

The researchers found that the system made the right referral recommendation in more than 94% of cases. 

“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. With further research it could lead to greater consistency and quality of care for patients with eye problems in the future,” Dr Keane added.

The system, which also allows clinicians to scrutinise the recommendations made, enabling them to understand why certain results were generated, can be applied to different types of eye scanners, not just the one that it was trained on at the Moorfields trust.

But before it can be used in clinical practice, it would have to be turned into a platform that would then need to go through clinical trials and regulatory approval.

If the technology is validated, however, DeepMind Health says clinicians at the trust will be able to use it for free across 30 of their UK hospitals and community clinics for an initial period of five years.

“I am in no doubt that AI has a vital role to play in the future of healthcare, particularly when it comes to training and helping medical professionals so that patients benefit from vital treatment earlier than might previously have been possible,” said Professor Sir Peng Tee Khaw, Director of the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology.

DeepMind Health says it ‘significantly’ invested in turning the original dataset held by the Moorfields trust into a machine learning, AI-ready format, describing it now as ‘one of the best AI-ready databases for eye research in the world’, which the trust owns as a non-commercial asset and is already being used in nine different medical research studies.

Dr Dominic King, DeepMind Health Medical Director, previously explained in a House of Commons Science and Technology Committee evidence session, part of the Algorithms in decision-making inquiry:

"The NHS does not have datasets that have been meticulously labelled, pixel by pixel, for training material for artificial intelligence companies. That is what we have created in partnership with Moorfields Eye Hospital. It now has, unarguably, the leading retinal scan dataset in the world, over which we have taken no proprietary ownership. We have said, 'We want you to be able to share this with others'.”

Commenting on today's announcement, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: 

“This is hugely exciting and exactly the type of technology which will benefit the NHS in the long term and improve patient care - that’s why we fund over a billion pounds a year in health research as part of our long term plan for the NHS."

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Leontina Postelnicu

To share tips, news or announcements, contact the writer on lpostelnicu@himss.org

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