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Moorfields Private consultants lead on artificial intelligence breakthrough

Research could transform the way professionals carry out eye tests

13 August 2018
Moorfields carry out more than 5,000 optical coherence tomography (OCT) scans every week
  • Breakthrough in artificial intelligence technology could improve patient care.
  • Artificial intelligence system could help doctors and other eye health professionals spot serious conditions earlier and prioritise patients who urgently need treatment.
  • Moorfields Private consultants Pearse Keane and Professor Sir Peng Tee Khaw helped initiate the pioneering research collaboration.

An artificial intelligence (AI) system that can recommend the correct referral decision for over 50 eye diseases as accurately as world-leading experts has been developed by researchers at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust*, DeepMind Health and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology.

The breakthrough research, published by Nature Medicine, describes how machine learning technology has been successfully trained on thousands of historic de-personalised eye scans to identify features of eye disease and recommend how patients should be referred for care.

It is hoped that the technology could one day transform the way professionals carry out eye tests, allowing them to spot conditions earlier and prioritise patients with the most serious eye diseases before irreversible damage sets in.

Pearse Keane, consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields Private and NIHR clinician scientist at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology said:

“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.”

Pearse Keane, Moorfields Private consultant, speaks with patient

In 2016, Pearse Keane helped initiate the collaboration between Moorfields Eye Hospital and DeepMind Health – a leading technology company, along with Professor Sir Peng Tee Khaw, Moorfields Private consultant ophthalmologist and director of the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology.

The study brought together leading eye health professionals and scientists, with some of the UK’s top technologists at DeepMind to investigate whether AI technology could help improve the care of patients with sight-threatening diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration and diabetic eye disease.

Using two types of neural network – mathematical systems for identifying patterns in images or data – the AI system quickly learnt to identify ten features of eye disease from highly complex optical coherence tomography (OCT) scans. The system was then able to recommend a referral decision based on the most urgent conditions detected. It was able to make the right referral recommendation more than 94% of the time, matching the performance of expert clinicians.

Professor Sir Peng Tee Khaw said:

“The results of this pioneering research with DeepMind are very exciting and demonstrate the potential sight-saving impact AI could have for patients. 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.”

The next step is for the research to go through clinical trials to explore how this technology might improve patient care in practice, and regulatory approval before it can be used in hospitals and other clinical settings. It is hoped that the work which has gone into improving research databases for this project will also help accelerate wider NHS research for many years to come.

Robert Dufton, chief executive at Moorfields Eye Charity said:

“The need for treatment for eye diseases is forecast to grow, in part because people are living longer, far beyond our ability to meet the demand using current practice. Artificial intelligence is showing the potential to transform the speed at which diseases can be diagnosed and treatments suggested, making the best use of the limited time of clinicians. Moorfields Eye Charity is proud to have funded equipment which underpins Dr Pearse Keane’s work as part of our programme of philanthropic support in pioneering researchers.”

Where to find more information

Q&As about the study

What is age-related macular degeneration?

How does age-related macular degeneration affect vision?

*Moorfields Private is part of Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

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