Techies are working on devices to help diagnose and cure some of the world's most serious eye diseases. Since the global population is steadily aging, ophthalmologists need all the help they can get to address eye issues.
Ophthalmologists are especially concerned about the rapid rise of cataracts. As of today, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness around the world. Recent estimates suggest 42 percent of the world's population has this disease.
In order to address this problem, Google has joined forces with scientists at one of the most respected eye hospitals in the world: London's Moorfields Eye Hospital. British ophthalmologists are working closely with tech experts from Google's DeepMind AI sector to develop a sophisticated cataract diagnostic tool.
Both Google and Moorfields researchers are trying to build a neural network that can detect early signs of cataracts. This neural network will use a databank of over one million optical coherence tomography (OCT) eye scans while scanning a person's eyes. Many scientists believe this neural network will help doctors efficiently scan people for cataracts in less time than ever before.
The main reason doctors are so excited about this AI network has to do with the use of OCT scans. OCT is a relatively new form of scanning the eyeball, but it's extremely powerful.
Julie Schallhorn, an ophthalmology professor at UC San Francisco, said OCT scans can give "near-cell resolution of the cornea, retina, and optic nerve." Just to put this into perspective, the optic nerve is a mere 200 microns thick. Despite it's small size, the OCT scan can pick up all the cells on the optic nerve.
Another issue researchers are working on for cataract patients concerns accommodation. In the eye care field, "accommodation" refers to the automatic contraction of the eye's lens that help us shift focus from up-close to far away. As people age, the lens tends to get rigid and is often accompanied with cataracts.
Current lens replacements aren't especially good at giving cataract patients accommodation. The main options patients have are either multifocal lenses or accommodating lenses.
One way surgeons are using technology to help choose the perfect lens is by using optiwave refractive analysis (ORA). Surgeons like using the ORA system because it gives more accurate measurements of the cornea than traditional pre-surgical measurement devices. ORA uses wavefront measurement to give a better reading of the patient's cornea size after the surgeon has removed the cataract.
Another eye disease ophthalmologists are concerned about is glaucoma. Estimates show that around 70 million people are diagnosed with this disease every year.
One of the major problems with glaucoma is that it presents no symptoms until it's too late for doctors to operate. The only way people can tell whether or not they have glaucoma is to get regular eye exams. Unfortunately, people in rural areas have a difficult time accessing certified ophthalmologists.
In order to address this problem, Cambridge Consultants developed a smartphone eye scan they call Viewi. Anyone can download Viewi onto their smartphone and take a quick glaucoma eye scan. The entire eye test takes 10 minutes and costs only $25.
Although eye problems are set to increase around the world, many new eye care technologies are emerging to meet the global need. In the meantime, ophthalmologists still recommend everyone get an annual eye exam to check for serious diseases like glaucoma, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration.