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HEALTHY YOU

Artificial intelligence can detect eye disease

Coralville company's system can spot diabetic retinopathy

Future woman with cyber technology eye panel concept (Adobe Stock)
Future woman with cyber technology eye panel concept (Adobe Stock)

IDx, a Coralville-based med technology firm, is giving the world a glimpse into what eye health care might look like in the future.

IDx-DR, an autonomous artificial intelligence diagnostic system developed by Dr. Michael Abramoff to detect diabetic retinopathy, gained approval in 2018 from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The technology is to be used in health care settings patients already visit, such as their primary care physician’s office, to catch the disease before it causes permanent damage.

“The early detection of this disease is important. We’re reducing the burden on patients by making it easier to access testing,” said Ben Clark, president and chief operating officer of IDx.

“Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the United States,” he said. “If you catch it early, vision loss is preventable.”

When the IDx-DR detects diabetic retinopathy, patients are referred to optometrists and ophthalmologists.

It is estimated that only about 50 percent of the people who should visit an eye care specialist do, so the IDx-DR technology is helping get the right people through the door.

“There are enough people to treat, but not enough showing up,” Clark said. “This solves a major care gap.”

At this time, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics has the only IDx-DR system in the Corridor.

Clark said the company hopes to deploy more to help prevent the estimated 24,000 cases of blindness that occur due to diabetic retinopathy in the United States every year.

The technology went through extensive vetting before it was granted FDA approval. It is the only autonomous AI system with FDA clearance.

One reason this particular condition is a good fit for AI diagnostic technology is that it has well-defined parameters.

“Diabetic retinopathy is a well-characterized disease, meaning the biomarkers are well researched and understood,”

Clark said.

Once there are clearer biomarkers for other diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, researchers hope technology like this one could be used to make earlier diagnoses of other conditions.

“The eye is a platform for indexing someone’s health,” Clark said. “Lots of biomarkers are being researched now that will be developed into important indicators of health in the coming decade.”

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