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Artificial intelligence trial to close the eye care gap in remote and regional Australia

New research led by the Centre for Eye Research Australia will test the effectiveness of an artificial intelligence-based technology in providing much-needed eye screening services in remote and regional Australia.

The project, funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Partnership Projects Scheme, aims to increase access to eye checks for people who are currently missing out, including Indigenous Australians and people in remote and regional communities.

Led by CERA’s Professor Mingguang He and Research Fellow Dr Stuart Keel, in partnership with the Brien Holden Vision Institute (BHVI), the research project will run a clinical trial to test the clinical effectiveness of the new technology. They will also evaluate how it is accepted by patients and health professionals compared to standard care.

Trial leaders Professor Mingguang He and Dr Stuart Keel. Photo: Anna Carlile.

Primary care services in regional and remote Australia will take part in the trial, using an algorithm developed by researchers to test for signs of common blinding eye diseases, including diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts, when applied to standard retinal photographs.

Seconds after taking a photo of the eye, a report will be generated from the artificial intelligence system indicating whether the patient needs to be referred to a specialist for further assessment and treatment.

“Vision impairment and blindness are major public health problems in Australia, with up to 50 per cent of major eye diseases remaining undiagnosed,” says Prof He.

“An active screening program is required to identify these cases, particularly in regional and remote areas where eye health services are lacking.

“Artificial intelligence could close the significant gap in eye care services and considerably increase early diagnosis of the four most common blinding eye diseases and reduce the burden of vision loss in the Australian communities that need it the most.’’

Up to 500,000 Australian adults suffer from vision impairment or blindness. Indigenous Australians are at particular risk, experiencing up to three times higher rates of vision impairment and blindness and much higher rates of late-stage diabetic retinopathy compared to non-Indigenous Australians.

Dr Keel says that while current technology for retinal photography is very effective in detecting eye disease, it relies on the presence clinical experts such ophthalmologists and optometrists.

“Our new technology would enable non eye-care health professionals in regional and remote primary care settings to conduct screening quickly and accurately,’’ he says.

“The system has been extensively evaluated amongst images collected from Australia, Singapore and China.

“This new funding from the NHMRC will enable us to assess the technology in the real-world settings.’’

Media contact:

Janine Sim-Jones
Centre for Eye Research Australia
j.simjones@unimelb.edu.au
Tel: +61 3 9929 8166 or mobile: 0420 886 511


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