Deep Learning for Detection of Diabetic Eye Disease

Deep Learning for Detection of Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is the fastest growing cause of blindness, with nearly 415 million diabetic patients at risk worldwide. If caught early, the disease can be treated; if not, it can lead to irreversible blindness. Unfortunately, medical specialists capable of detecting the disease are not available in many parts of the world where diabetes is prevalent. We believe that Machine Learning can help doctors identify patients in need, particularly among underserved populations.

A few years ago, several of us began wondering if there was a way Google technologies could improve the DR screening process, specifically by taking advantage of recent advances in Machine Learning and Computer Vision. In "Development and Validation of a Deep Learning Algorithm for Detection of Diabetic Retinopathy in Retinal Fundus Photographs", published today in JAMA, we present a deep learning algorithm capable of interpreting signs of DR in retinal photographs, potentially helping doctors screen more patients in settings with limited resources. 

One of the most common ways to detect diabetic eye disease is to have a specialist examine pictures of the back of the eye (Figure 1) and rate them for disease presence and severity. Severity is determined by the type of lesions present (e.g. microaneurysms, hemorrhages, hard exudates, etc), which are indicative of bleeding and fluid leakage in the eye. Interpreting these photographs requires specialized training, and in many regions of the world there aren’t enough qualified graders to screen everyone who is at risk.

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