Software scans retinas

Retinal scanning software could limit eye disease caused by diabetes

Diabetic eye disease could be more effectively treated before it leads to severe loss of vision with a new software program that promises to help doctors detect early signs of retinal abnormalities.

The technology, called iGrading, from Daresbury-based retinal-screening specialist


, works with the normal digital screening kit used to examine diabetic patients' eyes.

Such screening is conducted with a digital camera that has a wide view to take photos of the patient's retina. The image is loaded onto a computer and currently is analysed by a team of specialists who make an assessment over whether there is early indication of eye disease.

Such assessment requires a considerable amount of training and it can be very laborious, said Edward French, investment director at Enterprise Ventures, the UK venture capital group that backs Medalytix. The iGrading software uses a sophisticated algorithm to make assessments with the same, or better, accuracy of a highly trained ophthalmologist.

He added: 'It looks at the image for very subtle features that determine if there is any sign of disease.'

The Medalytix team developed the algorithm in a research programme with Aberdeen University. French said the algorithm can automatically detect small circular lesions on the retina known as microaneurysms, which are one of the earliest indicators visible in diabetic retinopathy.

According to Aberdeen University, diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of blindness in the working-age population of the UK. Approximately 1,000 people annually are registered blind due to the disease. This number could be greatly reduced with more widespread retinal screening, which can detect diabetic retinopathy in its early stages.

Enterprise Ventures funded the creation of the Medalytix company through RisingStars, which was incorporated in 2005, after seeing commercial potential for automated diagnostics. The iGrading technology was developed after years of research with Aberdeen University and several trial groups of patients.

The technology has achieved a CE mark, meaning it has met European consumer safety standards, and it is available for purchase.

Medalytix recently achieved £2m-worth of funding from investors Hotspur Capital Partners and Corporación Empresarial ONCE, the business-venture arm of the Spanish National Organisation for the Blind.

Medalytix plans to use the funding to develop international sales and marketing of iGrading.

French said the technology would be of benefit in countries where there is a shortfall of retinal-screening programmes because the software greatly reduces the number of trained staff necessary for assessments.

Looking to the future, he believes the iGrading technology could be enhanced and used to identify conditions other than eye disease.

French added: 'There are dozens of conditions you can diagnose through the eye.

'Perhaps in another 20 years' time it could be a routine part of visiting the doctor to have a photograph taken of the back of your retina, much as you might have your temperature taken or your ears examined.'

Siobhan Wagner