17 August 2016
Moorfields Eye Hospital has been at the forefront of eye health and technology since it’s inception in 1805 by John Cunningham Saunders and John Richard Farre. The hospital has always been a research-led establishment – indeed David Gartry was responsible for the first LASIK research protocols at Moorfields in 1992. LASIK is now of course the most popular laser eye surgery procedure world-wide.
Google’s ‘DeepMind’ project is a groundbreaking research facility. Originally founded in 2010 in London by Demis Hassabis, Shane Legg and Mustafa Suleyman, the project was acquired by Google in 2014 and made headlines at the time for being Google’s largest European company purchase. Medical research is one of the key areas where Google’s DeepMind can accelerate research and development with the aim of exacting beneficial change faster than could otherwise be achieved. Their remit centres around artificial intelligence and how that can assist medical research in terms of data interpretation and ultimately more efficient treatment methods.
In July Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundations Trust and Google DeepMind announced their research partnership. The two key areas of initial research will be diabetic retinopathy (damage to the retina from diabetes) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). These conditions affect over 625,000 people in the UK alone.
Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in people aged between 20-70 years old. Those suffering from diabetes are 25 times more likely to suffer from visual problems or even sight loss. In the UK Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of blindness. AMD occurs when the part of the eye responsible for central vision (the macula) is unable to function properly. By 2020 over 700,000 people will be affected in the UK and at present there is no cure. However with DeepMind and Moorfields’ collaborative research machine learning can possibly help to address treatment at an early stage and therefore save sight in thousands.
DeepMind will collect one million eye scans from anonymous patients via routine care. The scans will be analysed and DeepMind will research how the scans can be processed faster and more efficiently as they are often extremely complex. Ultimately the project and partnership is a unique and forward thinking exercise to deliver earlier treatments to patients therefore saving people’s eyesight who might otherwise fall prey to the conditions outlined. No patient data is used and the entire process is being approved by Moorfields’ Research On Anonymised Data (ROAD) approval pathway.