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Retinal scans and AI: Tools in fighting Alzheimer’s?

Image ID: 71477971 (L). Image credit: designua / 123rf
Image credit: designua / 123rf

New research suggests retinal scans and artificial intelligence (AI) could play a part in fighting Alzheimer’s disease. 

The research – published in The British Journal of Ophthalmology – indicated that computer software using a novel form of AI “was able to successfully identify a group of patients who were known to have Alzheimer’s disease…the novel computer software looks at retinal structure and blood vessels on images of the inside of the eye that have been correlated with cognitive changes,” as reported by IANS.

““The findings provide proof-of-concept that machine learning analysis of certain types of retinal images has the potential to offer a non-invasive way to detect Alzheimer’s disease in symptomatic individuals,” the report adds.

“Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease often relies on symptoms and cognitive testing. Additional tests to confirm the diagnosis are invasive, expensive, and carry some risk,” IANS quotes study author Sharon Fekrat of Duke University as saying. “Having a more accessible method to identify Alzheimer’s could help patients in many ways, including improving diagnostic precision.” 

The news comes at a time when AI is being increasingly applied to health issues in India. As Health Issues India has reported extensively, AI’s applications in the health field “[range] from a wearable glove with the ability to detect seizures in those with epilepsy to therapeutic devices to help manage conditions like diabetes. Applications have even been developed wherein AI-powered robots can act as virtual assistants for doctors or even display diagnostic abilities with similar degrees of accuracy as medical professionals.” 

AI has been embraced in Indian healthcare and other sectors. Last year, government think tank Niti Aayog urged further usage of AI. “I write to request you to identify key projects where AI can be developed to solve problems affecting the health sector that you wish to drive forward,” Niti Aayog chief executive officer Amitabh Kant wrote to the stakeholders of the industries in question at the time. 

“Niti Aayog has a team that works on the AI programme and I would like to extend all help in providing necessary support, connecting to the concerned stakeholders and any other matter that may be required,” he added.

The application of AI in tackling Alzheimer’s via retinal scans is a potential boon in confronting a pressing public health challenge. As reported by Health Issues India on World Alzheimer’s Day this year, “according to the Alzheimer’s Association, “in India, more than four million people have some form of dementia.” By 2030, the number is projected to rise to 7.6 million.”

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