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How artificial intelligence could help prevent diabetes blindness

13 Sep 17

It could soon be possible to prevent blindness for the 1.7 million Australians currently suffering from diabetes.

Following a successful trial in Perth, new artificial intelligence technology will enable GPs to test diabetic patients for diabetic retinopathy, a condition affecting one in three diabetic people that can lead to blindness.

The trial, held at the GP Superclinic at Midland Railway Workshops in Perth, was funded through an NHMRC grant and base funding from WA Health and CSIRO through the Australian Tele-health Research and Development Group.

The trial included 187 diabetic patients. High-resolution images that were taken of the patients’ eyes were  analysed by the software for signs of diabetic retinopathy.

GPs will now be able to use this technology to screen patients for signs of the condition and its severity, and refer them to an ophthalmologist for further investigation, prioritised by the severity of their symptoms.

Australia’s Minister for Industry Innovation and Science Arthur Sinodinos said the technology could help change lives for the better.

"This advancement is a great example of the essential role science plays in finding innovative ways to help Australians live longer and happier lives," Sinodinos adds.

“With this world-first innovation, our scientists are at the forefront of using artificially intelligent technology to save people's eyesight and make healthcare more accessible for all Australians.”

CSIRO’s Professor Yogi Kanagasingam, the creator of the technology, says this innovation could help people with diabetic retinopathy receive treatment faster.

“Patients at risk of this condition would usually be referred to a specialist for screening, waiting six weeks or more – now it can potentially be done in a single 30-minute visit to a GP,” says Kanagasingam.

“Early detection and intervention for diabetic retinopathy is key, and this new tool is the first step to help GPs prioritise patients for treatment.”

"It could also help reduce the financial impact of diabetes on the Australian economy, which is estimated to cost up to $14 billion a year.”

The software has been licenced by TeleMedC, who will seek to make the technology commercially available with plans to install it at a further 20 GP clinics in Western Australia over the next few months, before expanding across Australia.

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