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AI Holds Promise for Early Detection of Diabetic Retinopathy

May 15, 2018

Over 100 million Americans suffer from some form of diabetes, a condition where bloods sugars (glucose) are not properly metabolized and are therefore unnaturally elevated. Left untreated, diabetes causes damage to multiple organs and systems of the body, including the eyes.

As the disease progresses, diabetes damages the blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive lining at the back of the eye. As damaged blood vessels leak blood and other fluid into retinal tissue, this tissue swells and gradually results in abnormal curvature of the lens, leading to the vision-endangering condition known as diabetic retinopathy.

Because the onset of diabetic retinopathy occurs without symptoms but can eventually result in blindness, early detection and treatment is critical. Further, because diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of visions loss in those with diabetes, the American Optometric Association urges this patient population to receive an annual comprehensive dilated eye exam. 

Unfortunately, only half of Americans with diabetes see an eye specialist each year, leading to far fewer recommended screenings and treatment of diabetic retinopathy.

But a new FDA-approved medical AI (artificial intelligence) device has the potential to dramatically increase the rate of screening for diabetic retinopathy by making it available through primary care physicians or any healthcare professional. 

In a trial of 900 subjects, the new device, known as IDxDR AI, correctly identified mild retinopathy at a rate of 87.4 percent, and those negative for the condition at 89.5 percent. It eliminates the need for an eye specialist to interpret the results of the screening process, allowing even healthcare providers with no training in eye disorders to administer it.

IDXDR AI uses a retinal camera to take digital images of the patient’s eyes. These images are then uploaded to a cloud server, prompting the software to assess the images.

If the AI assessment indicates that the patient is presenting with more than mild diabetic retinopathy, the patient will be referred to an eye care professional. If the assessment indicates that the patient is negative for retinopathy, a recommendation will be issued for a second screening within 12 months.

Treatment of diabetic retinopathy is determined by the degree of progression and severity of the disease.

Photocoagulation (laser treatment) is used to halt the introduction  of blood and fluid into the retina by sealing leaking vessels with strategic micro burns.

Other treatment approaches include the injection of inflammation-reducing and vessel growth-retarding medication into the eye, the removal and replacement of the vitreous fluid in the eye, or surgical repair of retinal detachment.

For those with early stages of non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, managing blood sugars levels and regular screening may be the only treatment to stop the progression of the disease and safeguard eye health.

For those who are diabetic, the best chances of preventing, slowing, or even stopping the progression of the disease is by:

  • Eating a balanced diet of mostly whole, unprocessed foods
  • Exercising regularly (both cardiovascular and strength training)
  • Stopping smoking and minimizing the consumption of alcohol
  • Reducing stress and controlling high blood pressure

As New Jersey’s most reputable, comprehensive vision health provider, OCLI delivers warm, friendly, state-of-the-art treatment for all your eyecare needs, including screenings for diabetic retinopathy, eyeglass or contact lens prescriptions, LASIK vision correction, dry eye treatment and more. OCLI is easy to reach and there to ensure you feel confident and that your future looks clear.

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