Technology could help prevent vision loss

Memphis-based start-up Automated Medical Diagnostics has licensed technology from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory that will help to preserve the sight of millions of people at risk of vision loss from diabetic retinopathy – damage to the retina caused by complications of diabetes mellitus, which can eventually lead to blindness.

Using the so-called telemedical retinal image analysis and diagnosis system, patients can quickly be screened for the disease in their doctor’s office as well as other remote sites, permitting early detection and referral of the disease.

’If diabetic retinopathy is detected early, treatments can preserve vision and significantly reduce the incidence of debilitating blindness,’ said Edward Chaum, an ophthalmologist and professor of retinal diseases at the UT Health Science Center Hamilton Eye Institute in Memphis.

Chaum and ORNL’s Ken Tobin, partners in Automated Medical Diagnostics, led the team that developed the method for teaching computers to aid in the diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy and other blinding eye diseases.

In use, a digital camera first takes pictures of the retina at a primary care physician’s office or other remote clinical site. The patient’s medical data and retinal images are then sent to a server and processed through a system that quickly sorts through large databases and finds visually similar images representing equivalent states of diabetic eye disease.

This allows diagnoses to be made in seconds so patients will know before they leave the doctor’s office if they have no eye disease or if they need to follow up with a retinal specialist. Conventional techniques require a patient to wait several days to receive results.

’What separates this from other methods is that we have automated the process of diagnosing retinal disease by capturing the expert knowledge of an ophthalmologist in a digital patient archive, allowing far more people to undergo screening,’ Tobin said.