DOST-funded study marks first use of AI for ophthalmology in PH

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A collaboration between a local eye center and a Europe-based school has resulted in the first successful use of artificial intelligence (AI) in ophthalmology in the Philippines.

Photo from DOST-PCHRD

This was reported by the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD), an attached unit of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), which funded the project.

The AI-based algorithm for diabetic retinopathy screening was carried out last Sept. 21 by the Philippine Eye Research Institute (PERI), in collaboration with the Queen’s University of Belfast of the United Kingdom.

“This is a significant milestone in Philippine ophthalmology and is a step towards establishing an inclusive program for diabetic retinopathy screening that has the potential to eliminate diabetes-related blindness,” the PCHRD said in a statement sent to the media.

The UK-Philippines Remote Retinal Evaluation Collaboration in Health: Diabetic Retinopathy or REACH-DR is a Newton-Agham program that aims to establish a diabetic retinopathy screening program (DRSP) in the country.

The initiative seeks to establish a local DRSP that will help in the timely identification of eyes at risk for diabetes-related blindness and visual loss.

To achieve this objective, REACH-DR has set the following targets:

  1. Development of the necessary infrastructure for a local DRSP by analyzing and validating existing telemedicine technology,
  2. Adaptation of selected technologies into the Philippine setting, and
  3. Completion of technology transfer to the Philippine stakeholders.

“If we succeed in establishing a DRSP locally, we can help treat patients on time, save their eyesight, and help them remain socially active,” said project leader and Harvard Medical School assistant professor of ophthalmology Dr. Paolo Antonio Silva.

“Ultimately, we want to reduce the incidence of blindness and visual impairment caused by diabetic retinopathy, which will allow the patients to live independently,” he added.

Dr. Jaime C. Montoya, executive director of DOST-PCHRD, cited the milestone achieved by the REACH-DR team.

“This project is an example of how we build on research to make healthcare services more accessible for the Filipino people, and ultimately, help make their lives better,” he said.

Currently, the REACH-DR team is conducting retinal screening among underserved communities in the National Capital Region and Region 3. The screening is expected to be completed by June 2022.

The project is funded under the Newton Agham Program of the DOST-PCHRD and the UK Medical Research Council.

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