Melbourne researchers announce computer diagnostic breakthrough

The researchers, who began their study in 2015, have trained the tech giant’s powerful computer syst, Watson, to recognise abnormalities in retina images.Watson – named after IBM’s founder, Thomas J. Watson – is a supercomputer that combines artificial intelligence (AI) and sophisticated analytical software for optimal performance as a ‘question answering’ machine.Most recently research has focused on streamlining some of the manual processes experienced by doctors today, which includes training Watson to distinguish between left and right eye images, evaluate the quality of retina scans, and rank possible indicators of glaucoma.The research team applied deep learning techniques and image analytics technology to 88,000 de-identified retina images accessed through EyePACS, to analyse key anomalies of the eye.For example, the results donstrated Watson’s ability to measure the ratio of the optic cup to disc – a key sign of glaucoma – with 95% accuracy.The research is expected to continue to improve over time as the technology expands to detect features of other eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration.Dr Peter van Wijngaarden, principal investigator at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Eye Research Australia, said there was a real need for resources that allowed Australians access to regular eye examinations.“At least 150,000 Australians have undiagnosed glaucoma, with numbers expected to rise due to our rapidly ageing population. It is critical that every Australian has access to regular eye examinations throughout their life so that diseases like glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy can be detected and treated as early as possible,” he said.“The development of image analytics and deep learning technology will provide great promise in this area.”Glaucoma has been named “the silent thief of sight” as many patients rain undiagnosed until irreversible vision loss occurs. Glaucoma can be treated but early detection is critical, with doctors currently relying on regular eye examination screening programs.

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