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AI-supported test predicts eye disease, study finds

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A new AI-supported eye test has been developed to predict a condition that can lead to blindness.

In a clinical trial of 113 patients, led by researchers from Imperial College London and UCL, retinal imaging technology called Detection of Apoptosis in Retinal Cells (DARC) was able to identify areas of the eye that were showing signs of geographic atrophy (GA) – a common condition that causes reduced vision and blindness.

The researchers believe that this technology could be used as a screening test for GA and help advance the development of new treatments for the disease.

Currently, a lack of detectable early symptoms and predictors of the disease means that it is difficult to identify GA early enough to avoid any vision loss, and GA is often diagnosed at a late stage.

The new study, published in Progress in Retinal Eye Research, found that DARC was able to predict new areas of GA growth three years in advance.

DARC allows the visualisation of sick and dying cells on the retina – a thin layer of tissue that lines the back of the eye on the inside and sends visual information to the brain. Rather than providing an estimate of healthy cells, DARC highlights unhealthy and sick cells, to give an indication of disease activity.

The researchers also incorporated an AI algorithm to rigorously count and assess the DARC spots, as specialists often disagree when viewing the same scans.

Professor Francesca Cordeiro, lead author of the study and professor of ophthalmology at Imperial College London, said: “These findings will help clinicians intervene with treatments to slow down vision loss and manage the condition at an early stage.

“We also hope that this technology can be rolled out onto high street opticians and used as a screening test in primary care settings.”

The team now aim to further validate the results with in larger clinical trials, which will start in the UK later this year.

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