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AI is Assisting the Fight Against Blindness

New technologies have always played a significant role in driving positive impact and advances in medicine. For our founder Tej Kohli, AI and robotics have a key role to play in philanthropy and humanitarian works, and in recent years these powerful new tools have been informing one particular area of medical research that falls firmly within the Tej Kohli Cornea Institute’s sphere of interest – the fight against preventable blindness.

The ability of AI to identify various diseases and conditions has been one of the major areas of development in medical diagnostics in recent years.

Complex deep learning algorithms have been able to identify conditions such as tuberculosis with a greater level of accuracy, and a higher success rate, than many human experts. Now, this same principle is being applied to predicting the onset of eye disease, thanks to a collaboration between Google’s AI division DeepMind, and Moorfields Eye Hospital.

The two organisations have pooled their considerable expertise and experience in their respective fields to try and create new methods for predicting the onset of eye disease. Moorfields will provide a dataset that contains the anonymised eye scans of 7,000 patients, and the researchers at DeepMind will use this data to try and predict wet AMD (age-related macular degeneration), a condition that can cause permanent blindness.

Identifying eye diseases at their earliest stage is one of the most effective methods of responding to them. The importance of procedures such as corneal transplants cannot be overstated, but it is education and prevention, even more than treatment, which are the keys to tackling preventable blindness around the world. An algorithm that can predict the onset of a disease in this manner would therefore be a major advantage in preventing blindness.

The collaboration between DeepMind and Moorfields is just one of the leading examples of a growing number of similar projects. Last year, it was announced that Verily were also using Google’s image resources to teach an AI to recognise and diagnose diabetic retinopathy, a disease that affects more than 415 million people each year.

The majority of these projects are still in their research and development stage, but some are even beginning to make their way into hospitals. At the start of 2019, it was reported that a hospital in Guangdong, China, is already using an artificial-intelligence camera to detect certain eye diseases in free consultation sessions. It is expected that a further 14 hospitals in the province will be using similar devices by March of 2019 – a major indicator that countries around the world will soon be seeing AI in more and more patient-facing roles.

For the Tej Kohli Cornea Institute, and especially for our founder Tej Kohli, charity and philanthropy are at their most impactful when they are driven by innovation. The use of AI and robotics for medical and philanthropic purposes is one of the most profound and inspiring ways in which new technologies are transforming the work of charitable organisations, and could well play a role in the TKCI’s mission to end curable blindness by 2030.

Visit the TKCI website or get in touch to find out more about the work we do, and the lives we have changed.

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