The technology, supported by an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm, could help accelerate clinical trials, and eventually may be used in detection and diagnostics, according to the Wellcome-funded study published today in Expert Review of Molecular Diagnostics .
We have developed a quick, automated and highly sensitive way to identify which people with glaucoma are at risk of rapid progression to blindness." Francesca Cordeiro, Study Lead Researcher and Professor, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, Imperial College London
Glaucoma, the leading global cause of irreversible blindness, affects over 60 million people, which is predicted to double by 2040 as the global population ages. Loss of sight in glaucoma is caused by the death of cells in the retina, at the back of the eye.
The test, called DARC (Detection of Apoptosing Retinal Cells), involves injecting into the bloodstream (via the arm) a fluorescent dye that attaches to retinal cells, and illuminates those that are in the process of apoptosis, a form of programmed cell death.
The damaged cells appear bright white when viewed in eye examinations - the more damaged cells detected, the higher the DARC count.
One challenge with evaluating eye diseases is that specialists often disagree when viewing the same scans, so the researchers have incorporated an AI algorithm into their method.
In the Phase II clinical trial of DARC, the AI was used to assess 60 of the study participants (20 with glaucoma and 40 healthy control subjects). The AI was initially trained by analysing the retinal scans (after injection of the dye) of the healthy control subjects. The AI was then tested on the glaucoma patients.
Those taking part in the AI study were followed up 18 months after the main trial period to see whether their eye health had deteriorated.
The researchers were able to accurately predict progressive glaucomatous damage 18 months before that seen with the current gold standard OCT retinal imaging technology, as every patient with a DARC count over a certain threshold was found to have progressive glaucoma at follow-up. Related Stories
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