AI helps diagnose signs of glaucoma 18 months earlier than current methods

From kidney stones to heart trouble, to cancer, artificial intelligence stands to revolutionize the field of medical diagnostics by spotting signs of disease earlier than us humans are capable of. Now, aided by the technology, scientists have developed a quick test to identify which people with glaucoma are at risk of rapid progression to blindness.

Glaucoma, the leading global cause of irreversible blindness, affects over 60 million people and is driven by the death of cells in the retina. Diagnosing the disease in its early stage can help people prevent its progression and maintain sight.

The test, called DARC (Detection of Apoptosing Retinal Cells), involves injecting into the bloodstream a fluorescent dye that attaches to retinal cells and illuminates those that are in the process of death, known as apoptosis. These dying cells appear bright white when viewed in eye exams, and by incorporating AI into this method, the researchers aimed to remove the element of human error when diagnosing the disease, as specialists often disagree when viewing the same scans.

Testing the AI-augmented technique involved analyzing scans of 60 patients, 20 with glaucoma, and 40 as healthy controls. The subjects were then assessed 18 months later, with the AI-powered analysis proving an accurate predictor of progressive damage caused by glaucoma.

Every patient with a count of white spots over a certain threshold was shown to have progressive glaucoma at the 18-month follow-up point. This was still 18 months before the condition was able to be detected by the existing gold standard retinal imaging technology, indicating that DARC shows promise as a biomarker when combined with AI.

The scientists are hopeful that, with further work, this new technology can become a common tool for clinicians.

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