Announcing DeepMind Health research partnership with Moorfields Eye Hospital

We founded DeepMind to make the world a better place by developing technologies that help address some of society's toughest challenges.

So we’re excited to announce our first medical research project with an NHS Trust.

We’ll be working with Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, one of the world’s leading eye hospitals with a 200 year track record in clinical care, research and education.

This collaboration came about when Pearse Keane, a consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields, contacted DeepMind to explore how we could work together on two specific conditions that cause sight loss: diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Together, these affect more than 625,000 people in the UK and over 100 million people worldwide.

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Diabetes is on the rise. It’s estimated that 1 in 11 of the world’s adult population are affected. It’s also the leading cause of blindness in the working age population - if you’re diabetic you are 25 times more likely to suffer some kind of sight loss. Early detection and treatment can prevent 98% of severe visual loss resulting from diabetes - but that doesn’t always happen.

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the commonest cause of blindness in the UK. Every single day - in the UK alone - nearly 200 people lose sight from the severe, blinding form of this condition and globally the number of people with AMD is set to rise to nearly 200m by 2020. By allowing earlier detection and treatment of AMD, machine learning has the potential to help save the sight of many of these people.

At the moment, eye care professionals use digital scans of the fundus (the back of the eye) and scans called optical coherence tomography (OCT) to diagnose and determine the correct treatment for these serious eye conditions. These scans are highly complex and take a long time for eye health professionals to analyse, which can have an impact on how quickly they can meet patients to discuss diagnosis and treatment. And to date, traditional computer analysis tools have been unable to explore them fully.

Our research project aims to investigate how machine learning could help analyse these scans efficiently and effectively, leading to earlier detection and intervention for patients and reducing the number of cases of patient deterioration.

The set of one million anonymised eye scans and some related anonymous information about eye condition and disease management, which Moorfields will share with us for the research, has been collected over time through routine care. This means it’s not possible to identify any individual patients from the scans. And they’re also historic scans, meaning that while the results of our research may be used to improve future care, they won’t affect the care any patient receives today.

We’re proud to be contributing to the many thousands of medical research efforts underway at any given time. As is standard practice in such projects, we never own the data - the NHS does. And we’re bound by clear rules covering what we can do with it, which are distinct to (though equally strict as) the rules that govern our direct patient care work with the Royal Free Hospital.

More information about the project can be found on our Health Research page. We have submitted our research protocol for open peer review and we’ll also submit any results from this research to peer-reviewed journals, as is normal, so others in the medical community can analyse them.

It’s early days for this work, but we’re optimistic about the long-term potential for machine learning technology to help eye health professionals diagnose and treat other diseases that, like macular degeneration, affect the lives of millions of people across the world. It’s a hugely exciting opportunity to make a difference to the NHS and its patients, and we’ll keep you updated as we continue on this journey.

References

  1. Early detection and treatment can prevent 98% of severe visual loss resulting from diabetes
    Access Economics (2009) Future Sight Loss UK 1: Economic Impact of Partial Sight and Blindness in the UK adult population
    RNIB 2009
  2. People with diabetes are 25 times more likely to go blind.
    International Diabetes Federation Europe 2011