World first eye screening system to help prevent blindness

The University of Notre Dame Australia is developing a world-first smart digital eye screening system that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help detect preventable eye diseases that could lead to blindness.

The system, which fits inside a small briefcase, is designed for use in remote and regional areas where rates of preventable blindness are higher due to the lack of access to eye specialists and advanced screening equipment. Currently, eye tests need to be carried out by specialists using equipment weighing up to 30 kilograms and costing up to $100,000.

UNDA Chair of Digital Health and Telemedicine, Professor Yogi Kanagasingam, said the new system would have considerable benefits for remote and regional communities because of its portability, with the AI technology doing the hard work of screening for issues that may require treatment or ongoing monitoring.

“Effectively, the AI acts as the system’s brain, scanning digital images of a patient’s eye for any evidence of diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts or age-related macular degeneration – all of which are treatable if we can identify them early enough,” Professor Kanagasingam said.

“If the digital machine does identify an issue, the patient can then be referred to a specialist who can conduct further testing before deciding on the appropriate course of action.

“While there is an obvious need for this sort of technology here in Australia, it would also be hugely beneficial in developing countries such as India, which is home to about 25 per cent of the world’s blind population.”

Parts of Professor Kanagasingam’s eye testing technology are already being used by NASA on the International Space Station to monitor changes to the eyes of astronauts in zero gravity.

The Commonwealth Government this week announced grant funding of $912,000 toward the project through the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund. The money will help to further refine the system and move it towards implementation in Australia and India in collaboration with Aravind Eye Institute from South India. Industry partners, TeleMedC from Australia and Aurolab from India have already been identified to support possible commercialisation.

Professor Kanagasingam is confident that full-scale trials of the new technology can commence within a year.

/University Public Release. View in full here.