Engineers at this year's Advanced Retinal Therapy conference in Vienna focused on how to better personalise medical care in the future. In particular, specialists looked into how they could use new Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies to scan a person's retinae and get a better picture of a patient's overall health.
Believe it or not, doctors can tell so much about a patient's overall health from a retina scan. Specialists say the retina provides a great deal of health information because it's intimately connected to the brain and vascular system.
Ursula Schmidt-Erfurth, the head of the Department of Ophthalmology and Optometry at MedUni Vienna, was a key speaker at ART-2017. She told reporters that with the new technologies produced at the university's Department of Medicine III and Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, general practitioners at MedUni Vienna could now tell whether a patient has diabetes with just one retinal screening.
The type of retina scan Viennese doctors now use is called an optical coherence tomography (OCT). Amazingly, OCT machines can scan the eye close to 40,000 times within less than two seconds.
Immediately after the OCT scan is completed, the doctors send the data through sophisticated AI algorithms to scan for various medical conditions. Dr. Schmidt-Erfurth said doctors could tell a great deal about a person's lifestyle, age, and risk of developing diabetes or high blood pressure from this eye scan.
Although not perfected yet, some researchers believe these retinal scans could detect early stages of kidney failure. There's also hope that doctors could use OCT scans to detect neurological conditions like dementia.
Two key researchers into OCT scan's potential in Vienna, Christoph Hitzenberger and Adolf Fercher, were awarded the prestigious Dolores H. Russ Prize for their achievements. Both Hitzenberger and Fercher work at Vienna's Center for Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering
Internists using this OCT and AI technology at MedUni Vienna say they are glad to have the ability to give their patients more personalized care. Before these OCT scanners were introduced, doctors and internists simply didn't have the expertise or equipment to take successful retinal scans. Since these OCT scanners rely on Big Data algorithms, internists don't need the expertise of an optometrist to understand the implications of eye scans.
For all her efforts in this field, Dr. Schmidt-Erfurth was recently awarded the Donald Gass Medal from America's Macula Society. Dr. Schmidt-Erfurth also owns patents for all the AI algorithms she and her colleagues have developed
In her closing statements, Dr. Schmidt-Erfurth said using AI technologies as diagnostic tools will be the future of medical care. While it will undoubtedly help patients get a clearer picture of their overall health, Dr. Schmidt-Erfurth stressed that these technologies will require doctors to learn new skills that weren't a part of the "job description" a few years ago.
The ART-2017 conference was held on December 2nd at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Besides discussing OCT's uses in modern medical practice, ART-2017 members discussed topics such has Vascularized drusen in OCT-A and Google in ophthalmology.