Diabetic Retinopathy is a blindness causing disease common in people who have Diabetes. Although this disease is curable when detected at early stages, it is often missed due to a lack of early scanning and qualified doctors available for the same. Google, along with Verily, begun a project to use AI machine learning technology to solve this healthcare problem. Verily is the LifeSciences division of Google’s parent company – the Alphabet.
What is Diabetic Retinopathy and how it is diagnosed?
Diabetic Retinopathy is a blindness disease that occurs in patients with diabetes. Damage to the blood vessels at the back of the retina leads to this condition by reducing the light sensitivity of the tissue. This condition can gradually progress to complete blindness. The early symptoms include cloudy or blurred vision, floaters, etc. If detected early, Laser Treatment or surgery can be used to treat the Diabetic retinopathy condition.
Weak Indian Healthcare infrastructure poses a challenge to early detection
India, as a country, has a low doctor to people ratio due to the large population size. This ratio is further decreased in eye care, thus leading to a scarcity of qualified ophthalmologists who can diagnose these curable conditions earlier. As per recent research figures, India is facing a shortage of 100,000 eye doctors across the country.
Enter Google’s AI Machine Learning to the rescue
Google decided to tackle this problem by using Artificial Intelligence or more commonly known as AI. They wanted AI systems to identify at-risk patients using their retinal eye-scan images. To do this, Google decided to use Machine Learning and Computer Vision to study 120,000 retinal scan images that were manually graded from healthy to sick by doctors across the world.
This data was then fed to the AI system which learned to differentiate the images and identify the subtle nuances in the scan images that were indicators of this disease. The detection was done in a matter of seconds and the results were known in near real-time, a key factor of success in healthcare systems. Google partnered with Aravind Eye Hospital and Sankara Nethralaya in India to field test this technology.
Successful diagnosis leads to breakthrough in prevention
The team at Verily and Google put the developed tech across rigorous tests to ensure that it passes through regulator bodies for safe usage. As per an article on site, Verily claims that it has received the CE mark for the algorithm. The CE mark signifies that it has met the European Union Directive’s standards for medical devices. Dr. Kim from Aravind Eye Hospitals in Madurai has praised the deployment on the positive impact in increasing the volume of screenings, allowing the doctors to focus more on the treatment side.