First-of-its-kind Orbis research shows benefits of AI to diagnose eye disease in children

A new Orbis study finds AI-led screenings are a highly successful tool in detecting diabetic retinopathy in kids living with diabetes. Until now, very few studies with children and young adults existed.

Peer-reviewed Orbis research published in the Clinical Medicine Insights: Endocrinology and Diabetes, shows that using Orbis’s bespoke AI tool, Cybersight AI, can accurately diagnose diabetic retinopathy, a common complication of diabetes that can lead to permanent vision loss.

Carried out in partnership with the Diabetic Association of Bangladesh, the research shows that the use of AI-led screenings, supported by Cybersight, is beneficial in clinical settings where access to trained eye care professionals is scarce. This is especially critical with the global burden of diabetes, and the need for regular eye screenings for diabetic retinopathy, on the rise.

A child getting examined for DR on a screening day during a Flying Eye Hospital project in Accra, Ghana

A young person from another Orbis project is screened for diabetic retinopathy.

Commenting on the study, Nicolas Jaccard, Principal Architect, Telehealth & Program Technology, Orbis International says: To date, AI has been studied to detect diabetic retinopathy in adults. These studies have shown that AI is highly effective and accurate, but almost none have been tested on children.

“Adults and children with diabetes both require regular eye screenings to detect diabetic retinopathy and keep the condition from progressing, which can lead to irreversible vision loss or blindness. However, trained eye care professionals cannot meet the growing demand for diabetic retinopathy screening as the prevalence of diabetes continues to rise. A tool like Cybersight AI can help to meet this burden, especially for children and young adults who have been shown are less likely to seek out routine eye screenings.”

During the study, 1,300 children and young adults between the ages of three and 26 diagnosed with diabetes were screened at the Dhaka BIRDEM-2 hospital in Bangladesh.

Each patient had images of their retinas (the back of the eye) taken on a fundus camera at the hospital. This was then evaluated by Cybersight AI and by a fully qualified optometrist certified to grade for diabetic retinopathy.

Results showed that Cybersight AI accurately detected any signs of diabetic retinopathy among children and young adults, despite the algorithms having been trained on adults.

According to Dr. Munir Ahmed, Country Director, Orbis Bangladesh, more young people are being diagnosed with diabetes with Type II having tripled in people under 20 years old between 2011 and 2018.

He says: “Adolescents with type II diabetes have a higher risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, compared to adults. This is very concerning in Bangladesh where children and young adults do not have access to the regular diabetic retinopathy screening required to manage the disease and prevent future vision loss or blindness.”

Screening a patient for diabetic retinopathy in Vietnam with a fundus camera.

Screening a patient for diabetic retinopathy in Vietnam.

Tackling Vision Loss Caused by DR

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of vision loss among working-age people globally. Early detection can mean the difference between someone going blind or having a lifetime of healthy vision. Diabetic eye disease has no obvious warning signs and most don’t realize they have it until their vision is irreversibly impacted.

Bangladesh and other low-resource settings lack the infrastructure and trained professionals to implement the screenings effectively. With only 6.2 ophthalmologists per 1 million people in the country, there is not nearly enough to meet the growing number of people with diabetes.

Another Orbis study showed that AI improved the productivity of medical caregivers by 40% in Bangladesh. With more investment in AI-led detection, it is hoped that eye teams will be able to adjust to the increased demand for efficient and effective diabetic retinopathy screening.

A huge thank you goes to the Diabetic Association of Bangladesh, our partner hospital Dhaka BIRDEM-2, and our supporters – without whom none of this research would be possible.

The critical insights we get from our research inform our evidence-based approach to tackling global vision loss. If you are interested in funding Orbis research, or our efforts to use technology to revolutionize eye care in low- and middle-income countries, please contact xxx

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Top image: A young girl is screened at the Ramgonj Vision Center in Bangladesh for eye conditions in 2023. The child is not connected to the study.

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