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How AI Is Detecting Diabetic Retinopathy

Published: 7/10/23 12:01 pm
By Arvind Sommi

Diabetic retinopathy is often preventable if caught early. Advancements in artificial intelligence and eye-scanning technology have made it possible for more people with diabetes to get evaluated for diabetic retinopathy. 

One in three people with diabetes has diabetic retinopathy, making it one of the most common diabetes complications. 

“It steals their joy, it steals their autonomy, and it deserves a solution,” said Dr. Robert Levine, chairman of the Mary Tyler Moore Vision Initiative.

At the ADA’s Scientific Sessions in San Diego, we heard about the latest advancements in the field of diabetic retinopathy ranging from new developments in artificial intelligence to discussions on whether GLP-1 medications worsen the condition.

How artificial intelligence helps detect eye issues

The traditional approach to diabetic retinopathy screenings involves the manual interpretation of retinal images by an ophthalmologist. However, due to a shortage of eye doctors and the growing number of people with diabetes, there is an urgent need for a more accessible solution.

Eyenuk, a pioneering company in medical AI, recently gained FDA approval for an innovative technology that analyzes images of the back of your eye and immediately detects if you have some form of diabetic retinopathy. 

With the integration of artificial intelligence technology, healthcare providers can capture retinal images of their patients using what’s called a fundus camera. These images are then securely transmitted to Eyenuk's cloud-based platform, which looks for signs of diabetic retinopathy. For those living in rural areas with limited access to ophthalmologists, this technology dramatically increases access to eye screenings.

Gaurav Agarwal, head of product and design at Eyenuk, said that Eyenuk stands out from its competitors as it’s the only device FDA-approved to detect moderate to severe vision-threatening stages of diabetic retinopathy. This is also an important preventative tool as detecting eye issues sooner allows for early intervention and better health outcomes.

How do GLP-1s affect diabetic retinopathy?

Apart from advancements in artificial intelligence, ADA panelists like Dr. Risa Wolf, a pediatric endocrinologist at Johns Hopkins University, discussed the role that GLP-1s may have on the progression of diabetic retinopathy. 

The SUSTAIN-6 clinical trial found an increased risk of retinopathy-related complications from the GLP-1 semaglutide compared to a placebo, while others like the LEADER trial and AngioSafe type 2 diabetes study found that taking GLP-1s was not associated with diabetic retinopathy. Although the data is still inconclusive, it appears that GLP-1s may lead to a temporary, short-term worsening of retinopathy that stabilizes over time. 

“My belief is that we will see long-term benefits rather than worsening,” said Dr. Blake Cooper, who works at Retina Associates of Greater Kansas City.

He talked about another ongoing clinical study, the FOCUS trial, which is investigating the long-term effects of semaglutide on diabetic retinopathy and is expected to conclude in 2027. He said current data from earlier studies found that using semaglutide for one year was not associated with an increased risk of retinopathy. 

Learn more about diabetic retinopathy and eye health here:

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About the authors

Arvind Sommi joined the diaTribe Foundation in 2021 after graduating with Phi Beta Kappa and honors from the University of Florida where he majored in Biology and minored in Sociology.... Read the full bio »