Glaucoma is a surprisingly common condition that can have serious consequences if it goes untreated. Understanding the importance of early detection, a team of engineers and ophthalmologists in Australia has developed a novel approach using AI to diagnose glaucoma that can yield results in just 10 seconds.
Glaucoma is a condition whereby pressure builds in up within the eye, which in turn can put pressure on the optical nerve. If the optical nerve is affected like this for a prolonged period of time, it can result in permanent damage and vision impairment. Glaucoma can be treated with medication, but first it must be detected.
Diagnosing glaucoma typically involves a 30-minute test with an ophthalmologist or a visit to a specialized optometry clinic. However, not everyone has access to such specialists.
In the hopes of finding an easier way to diagnose glaucoma, Dinesh Kumar, a professor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), and his colleagues sought to develop a new approach that relies on AI and the fact that glaucoma alters the way in which a person's pupil responds to light.
They gathered a small group of study participants, 13 of whom were known to have glaucoma, 13 healthy controls, and 13 younger participants. The volunteers' eyes were imaged at 60 frames per second as they focused on a point under ambient light conditions, and then a machine learning algorithm was applied to the data to detect minute changes in pupil dilation of the glaucoma group compared to the healthy controls. From this work, the researchers developed a model for diagnosing glaucoma, which is described in a study published October 22 in IEEE Access.
"Our software can measure how the pupil adjusts to ambient light and capture minuscule changes in the size of the pupil," explains Quoc Cuong Ngo, a research assistant at RMIT involved in the study, in a press release. "Existing AI glaucoma tests require the patient to be perfectly still for up to 10 minutes. Our tech does the job in 10 seconds, without compromising on accuracy."
The advancement has the potential to help millions of people around the world who are at risk of developing glaucoma, and especially those over the age of 60 who are at higher risk.
"This research will allow a non-contact, easy-to-use and low-cost test that can performed routinely at general clinics," says Kumar. "It could also promote a community-wide screening program, reaching people who might not otherwise seek treatment until it's too late."
Kumar says that, although a specialized eye-tracker was used in this study, he envisions this approach one day being used through a simple app on a smartphone, a possibility that the team plans to explore in the near future. His team is also interested in testing their approach through a clinical trial in the coming year.
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