Looking into the human eye using digital techniques can yield an accurate description of a patient's general health condition, facilitate timely diagnosis and treatment, and engender transparent doctor-patient relationships. Personalized, precision medicine is the most significant medical development in the 21st century, and according to Ursula Schmidt-Erfurth, advanced retinal therapy provides the right medical treatment for a patient at the right time.
Schmidt-Erfurth, head of the Department of Ophthalmology and Optometry at the Medical University of Vienna, explains that the retina offers tremendous clues as a window into a patient's brain and vascular system, and other life science data. In fact, in cooperation with the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, headed by Anton Luger and the Department of Medicine III, doctors at Med Uni of Vienna are able to conduct on-the-spot diagnosis of diabetes by eye scans, using the unprecedented automated digital retinal scanning technique, without any input from an ophthalmologist.
Optical Coherence Tomography
With regard to diagnostic scanning and imaging, the human eye is a special part of our body. Using Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) technology, about 40,000 scans are produced within just 1.2 seconds, and with a total volume of approximately 65 million voxels. Voxel is a contraction of "volume" and "element." It refers to a single grid point in a three-dimensional grid and also a large volume of information about a person's retina. The OCT data is processed using automated algorithms initiated on an Artificial Intelligence (AI) basis. Both the apparatus and AI technique were formed by the Med Uni of Vienna, especially in the OPTIMA Christian Doppler laboratory and the Center for Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering, under the control of Schmidt-Erfurth.
Schmidt-Erfurth says that a digital scan of the retina could provide experts with a huge amount of relevant data, presenting information about a patient's general life and medical data. The information provided would not just be about current or potential diseases, but also general lifestyle as well including age, gender, blood pressure, smoking habits, and the presence of diabetes or an increased risk of getting it. Diabetes and high blood pressure are common conditions which lead to long-term retinal damage in many patients.
Florian Kiefer, an internist at the institution's Department of Medicine III, added that it had not been hitherto possible for them to look into the human eye due to lack of necessary diagnostic tools and experience. By integrating these latest technologies with clinical care, physicians would now be able to get more accurate pictures of their patients' general health condition to create room for personalized medical consultations and customized treatments. This new approach signals a further important move towards improved comprehensive health care for the swelling number of diabetics. Moreover, retina scans may be possibly used in the future to diagnose diseases affecting internal organs - such as the kidneys - neurological ailments, and age-related problems.
Schmidt-Erfurth says that though there were many existing techniques for managing eye conditions, digital retina scanning has fostered a revolutionary move towards improving ophthalmological care. "A large number of digital techniques are already being used in the management of eye conditions, always with the aim of improving standards of ophthalmological care,” she said. “Digital retinal scanning is an additional revolutionary step in this direction. However, it also opens up a whole universe of potential applications far beyond purely medical ones - and an essential change to the job description of doctors in the near future."