A GROUND breaking CSIRO eye-screening technology trialled at Midland GP Superclinic may soon make diabetes related blindness preventable.
For the 1.7 million Australians afflicted with the disease, the technology could soon change their lives for the better as previously only specialists could screen and detect the condition.
The eye-screening technology is also being supported by the WA government who will have contributed $2.5m to the project by July next year.
The innovation enables GPs to test diabetic patients for diabetic retinopathy, a debilitating condition affecting one in three diabetic people that can lead to blindness if untreated.
The successful trial of the artificial intelligence driven technology used a modified SLR camera to take the images with the camera placed on a platform and controlled by a joystick.
Pictures were then taken of the back of the patient’s eye with the image subsequently analysed by an AI grading software program that is affectionately known as Dr Grader.
The program was developed by CSIRO researchers through the evaluation of ophthalmologist grading data which enabled the software to improve its ability to detect the various indications of the disease in patients, leading to GPs successfully screening 187 patients during the trial period.
High resolution eye images taken of these patients were then examined by the technology for signs of diabetic retinopathy.
An important part of the process was the comparative review of these images by an ophthalmologist, with the technology proving to be as effective as specialists were in detecting signs of diabetic retinopathy and in grading its severity.
The technology’s creator and trial co-lead, CSIRO’s Professor Yogi Kanagasingam, said the innovation could help people with diabetic retinopathy receive treatment faster.
“Early detection and intervention for diabetic retinopathy is key and this new tool is the first step to help GPs prioritise patients for treatment,” Professor Kanagasingam said.
“Patients at risk of this condition would usually be referred to a specialist for screening, waiting six weeks or more – now it can potentially be done in a single 30-minute visit to a GP.
“It could help avoid unnecessary referrals to public hospitals, potentially reduce waiting periods for patients and enable ophthalmologists to focus on patients needing treatment and surgery.
“It could also help reduce the financial impact of diabetes on the Australian economy, which is estimated to cost up to $14 billion a year.”
Dr Ali Khanbhai, a doctor at Midland GP Superclinic, was involved in the trial and he couldn’t be more enthused about the technological innovation and the benefits patients will derive from earlier detection of the onset of diabetic retinopathy.
“The benefits of this streamlined screening process are enormous for both the patient and the health system,” Dr Ali Khanbhai said.
“The technology enables far earlier detection of any potential problem and as a result of the earlier detection the problem become far more treatable.
“Usually a diabetes patient would be referred to a specialist for screening which means the patient is out of pocket about $200 for a start and the system may be referring potentially healthy patients unnecessarily to a specialist.
“This in turn increases waiting times, patient loads and obviously increases the cost to the government of the health system.”
The software has been licenced by TeleMedC, who will seek to make the technology commercially available,with plans to install it at a further 20 GP clinics in Western Australia over the next few months, before expanding across Australia.
By Andrew Carter