Diabetic eye disease may be curbed with help of computer programs

NEW YORK Computerized systems may be able to detect early eye problems related to diabetes, according to a University of Iowa analysis.

The analysis, which was published in the Apr. 16 issue of Ophthalmology, found that computer programs may aid in finding diabetic eye disease and related issues. By analyzing 16,670 people with diabetes with two programs -- EyeCheck and Challenge 2009 -- a trained technician would use a digital camera to take pictures of the retina, then electronically transfer the images to computers, which can automatically detect the small hemorrhages (internal bleeding) and signs of fluid that are hallmarks of diabetes damage.

"It is an important question: whether a computer can substitute for a human to detect the initial signs of diabetic eye disease," said Michael Abramoff, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and an ophthalmologist with UI Hospitals and Clinics. "Our analysis shows that the computerized programs appear to be as accurate and thorough as a highly trained expert in determining if these initial signs of an eye problem are developing in someone with diabetes. Once the initial problems are found, an eye specialist can treat the patient."

The researchers said that while the programs significantly could reduce the number of patients with diabetic-related vision problems, the images were prescreened to ensure the computers could analyze them and the computer-based assessments were compared with assessments done by only one human reader at a time, which may not reflect a comparison to assessments by multiple readers.


"A computer alone will never be a substitute for the care of a good doctor, but it's exciting to think that computers can be partners in finding the patients at risk of blindness who should see an ophthalmologist," said study author Vinit Mahajan, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences.


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