Deepmind Moorfield eye scan 600x275

We’ve already seen strides in using artificial intelligence to help with healthcare tasks (see “IBM Watson Learns to See Medical Images” for one example). Now Google is taking aim at your eyes. Well, more precisely, Google DeepMind, a British artificial intelligence company acquired by Google in 2014, is teaming with Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, a leading eye hospital. The two institutions are collaborating to research diagnostic strategies that could help with early detection of diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration.

According to the Moorfields, the two vision-related conditions affect more than 625,000 people in the U.K. and more than 100 million worldwide. The latest U.S. numbers, according to the CDC, are 1.6 million American’s aged 50 or older with age-related macular degeneration and 5.3 million 18 or older with diabetic retinopathy. The greatest challenge with both diseases is early detection to prevent, ward off, or ameliorate the problems. But diagnosis is difficult because it relies on digital scans. It takes a long time to analyze the scans and even then the conventional analysis methods are limited.

DeepMind’s expertise is deep learning, a version of machine learning that uses algorithms to explore data to interpret data points and relationships. The more data the better with deep learning, which uses powerful computational power to analyze the information. Moorfields has stored more than one million eye scans from patients who have come to the hospital, collected over time, with no individual information attached to them (to preserve privacy). The promise of the research by DeepMind’s study of the Moorfields digital eye scans is its high potential for early detection and treatment of both diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration.

“We set up DeepMind because we wanted to use AI to help solve some of society’s biggest challenges, and diabetic retinopathy is the fastest growing cause of blindness worldwide. I’m really excited to announce this collaboration with leading researchers at Moorfields,” said Mustafa Suleyman, DeepMind co-founder. “Detecting eye diseases as early as possible gives patients the best possible chance of getting the right treatments. I really believe that one day this work will be a great benefit to patients across the NHS.”