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AI detects eye disease and risk of Parkinson’s from retinal images

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2023-09-14 14:30:07

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Retinal imaging allows researchers and physicians to observe small blood vessels whose condition could hint at a health-care issue. Credit: ipm/Alamy

Scientists have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) tool capable of diagnosing and predicting the risk of developing multiple health conditions — from ocular diseases to heart failure to Parkinson’s disease — all on the basis of people’s retinal images.

AI tools have been trained to detect disease using retinal images before, but what makes the new tool — called RETFound — special is that it was developed using a method known as self-supervised learning. That means that the researchers did not have to analyse each of the 1.6 million retinal images used for training and label them as ‘normal’ or ‘not normal’, for instance. Such procedures are time-consuming and expensive, and are needed during the development of most standard machine-learning models.

Instead, the scientists used a method similar to the one used to train large-language models such as ChatGPT. That AI tool harnesses myriad examples of human-generated text to learn how to predict the next word in a sentence from the context of the preceding words. In the same kind of way, RETFound uses a multitude of retinal photos to learn how to predict what missing portions of images should look like.

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