eyes

People with a rare eye disease known as retinitis pigmentosa (RP) suffer a gradual loss of vision; some become completely blind. Now, an innovative new approach to treatment has given dozens of people the chance to see again. With the help of a retinal implant, special glasses and intensive training, people who were blind have a new way of viewing the world which could one day benefit people with other degenerative eye diseases. We spoke to Professor Marie-Noelle Delyfer, University Hospital of Bordeaux, who has already performed eight such operations. What is retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and what is the prognosis for patients? RP is actually around 300 distinct genetic disorders that lead to the loss of photoreceptors on the retina. Some affected individuals have a reduction in their visual field while others become blind. With such a rare disease, it is difficult to describe a typical patient. Some lose their sight early in life or in early adulthood but there are others who become blind only in their 70s or 80s. Until 20 years ago, there were no treatments at all and the disease was not well understood. The first genetic cause of the disease was identified in 1984 – before that it was thought of as an inflammatory disease. What treatments are available? Some pharmaceutical therapies help to maintain photoreceptors but this only slows the progression of the disease – it’s not a cure. In the longer-term, there is some research on gene therapy targeting the mutations responsible for RP. How can technology help? I have used a new technology, from SecondSight, with eight carefully selected patients living with end-stage RP. These patients have an electrode array implanted in their retina. They wear glasses that are fitted with a camera that ‘sees’ their surrounding environment. This signal is sent...
Consider this: about 60 million people in Europe have diabetes. Out of those who have it for more than 20 years, 75% will develop some form of diabetic retinopathy (DR). It’s a startling statistic. Early detection of DR can prevent blindness, which is why people with diabetes should be tested every year. But because so many people have diabetes – and the numbers are rising – screening everyone for this debilitating eye disease is a huge challenge. For one thing, we do not have enough ophthalmologists to check the millions of eyes at risk of DR. And even if we did, the cost would be significant. New approaches are urgently needed. Fortunately, there is a solution on the horizon. By combining sophisticated cameras with artificial intelligence (AI), we can make diabetic retinopathy screening more efficient and cheaper – helping to deal with the growing demand for this crucial service. ‘Deep learning’ is a powerful kind of AI that can detect specific features in an image of the eye with high sensitivity. It allows health professionals to diagnose the stages of retinopathy in milliseconds. At DreamUp Vision, we are using this technology as a SaaS platform, as well as integrating it into a fundus camera – the kind of camera that ophthalmologists use to scan the eye. The technology is so flexible that any healthcare professional could scan a patient’s eye and get an immediate answer if the patient has signs of the disease or not. This could go a long way to addressing the shortage of ophthalmologists, while bringing expert care to people who do not live near specialist health centres. Learn by doing The incredible thing about this kind of AI is that it learns : the more eye scans it sees, the more accurate it becomes. We are...
What is your day-to-day work like? I work in the Department of Ophthalmology at the Charles University Faculty of Medicine, Hradec Králové, Czech Republic, specializing in cataract surgery, refractive surgery, the treatment of retinal diseases and laser corneal surgery, amongst others. In fact, I carry out over 2000 cataract surgeries a year. I also deal with some of the most complex cases in the Czech Republic. I’m also focused on spreading my knowledge and educating the next generation of doctors specializing in eye conditions and care and I’ve been working internationally too, working with the American Academy of Ophthalmology for example, as well as co-operating with innovative companies to share experiences and advance research and knowledge. How do you help improve or save people's lives through your work? Eyesight is a precious gift. I may not save people’s lives physically by my work but I certainly help to improve and even transform people’s lives. I will never refuse any patient, whatever age, background or complexity, and will do my utmost to restore their sight. What challenges face the healthcare system? The major challenge facing healthcare is the enlarging gap between the advances in medicine and the costs involved. This is only set to increase as the demographics change. Indeed, age-related conditions are harder to solve. Healthcare systems will face huge problems trying to cope with older patients with neurodegenerative diseases for example, or Alzheimer’s. There needs to also be a major focus on addressing the treatment inequalities facing patients. Treatment should not be limited to only a few but to all and the latest in technology should ideally be available. What role do you see for medical technologies to address these challenges? Diagnostic tests can help to address these challenges, allowing people to be diagnosed early and accurately and therefore...