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Advances in technology to improve effective screening for diabetic retinopathy welcomed

Dr Peter van Wijngaarden

Dr Peter van Wijngaarden

IBM Research has released the results of new research using deep learning and visual analytics technology to advance early detection of diabetic retinopathy (DR).

The results, which classify the degree of severity of the disease in an eye image, exceed other currently published research efforts for severity classification using deep learning and pathology insights.

“The alarming projections of the number of patients with diabetic retinopathy have major implications for the Australian health system,” said Dr Peter van Wijngaarden, Principal Investigator and Deputy Director at the Centre for Eye Research Australia.

“The loss of vision from the condition can impose an enormous burden on the individual, including a loss of capacity to work and the need for intensive community support,” he said.

“There is a real need for innovation to improve effective screening of those who are at risk to enable early sight-saving treatment if we are going to substantially reduce the number of people unnecessarily losing vision from diabetic eye disease.

“This technology is exciting because it opens up the potential for either decision support for general practitioners and optometrists who are currently involved in screening for diabetic retinopathy, or for community health workers in rural and remote locations engaged in telehealth care for people with diabetes,” said Dr van Wijngaarden.

The IBM team achieved an accuracy score of 86 percent in classifying the severity of the disease across the five levels recognized on the international clinical DR scale (no DR; mild; moderate; severe; proliferative DR).  By quickly and accurately identifying both the presence and severity of diabetic eye disease, this research could potentially help in the timely identification of people in the need of treatment.

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the world’s leading causes of blindness and affects one in three of the 422 million people who suffer from diabetes globally. If left untreated, diabetic eye disease can lead to permanent blindness, however early detection and treatment can reduce the risk of blindness by as much as 95 percent.