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Deep Learning In Estimating Prevalence And Systemic Risk Factors For Diabetic Retinopathy: A Multi-Ethnic Study


Apr 2019 – In any community, the key to understanding the burden of a specific condition is to conduct an epidemiological study. The deep learning system (DLS) recently showed promising diagnostic performance for diabetic retinopathy (DR).

AIM: To use DLS as the grading tool, instead of human assessors, to determine the prevalence and the systemic cardiovascular risk factors for DR on fundus photographs, in patients with diabetes. This is a multi-ethnic (5 races), multi-site (8 datasets from Singapore, USA, Hong Kong, China and Australia), cross-sectional study involving 18,912 patients (n = 93,293 images).

GRADERS: We compared these results and the time taken for DR assessment by DLS versus 17 human assessors – 10 retinal specialists/ophthalmologists and 7 professional graders.

RESULTS: The estimation of DR prevalence between DLS and human assessors is comparable for any DR, referable DR and vision–threatening DR (VTDR) (Human assessors: 15.9, 6.5% and 4.1%; DLS: 16.1%, 6.4%, 3.7%). Both assessment methods identified similar risk factors (with comparable AUCs), including younger age, longer diabetes duration, increased HbA1c and systolic blood pressure, for any DR, referable DR and VTDR (p > 0.05).

The total time taken for DLS to evaluate DR from 93,293 fundus photographs was ~1 month compared to 2 years for human assessors. In conclusion, the prevalence and systemic risk factors for DR in multiethnic population could be determined accurately using a DLS, in significantly less time than human assessors.

CONCLUSION: This study highlights the potential use of AI for future epidemiology or clinical trials for DR grading in the global communities.

npj Digital Medicine

This article was originally published on ASIA-PACIFIC JOURNAL OF OPHTHALMOLOGY,  March 2019 - Volume 8 - Issue 2 and can be read at:

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