HILLEL'S TECH CORNER: Making the eyes the windows of disease diagnostics

AEYE is solving a challenge we have all experienced in one way or another: diagnosing medical conditions effectively.

AEYE Health retinal scan. (photo credit: Courtesy)
AEYE Health retinal scan.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I’ve covered eye-tracking technology many times over the years, which has since grown to become a saturated market that never ceases to amaze me. After all, we all grew up seeing such futuristic technology in sci-fi movies. Yet here we are – life is mimicking art in a way never done before.
Eye-tracking technology has been known to detect the identity/presence, attention levels and focus of the user. The information collected from the eyes grants unique insights into human behavior, and it has helped pave the way to the creation of a broad range of vitrual-reality devices and augmented-reality applications.
They say the eyes are the windows into the soul, which begs the question: What else can they reveal about us?
I recently discovered that eye-tracking technology offers up more than just the cool sci-fi stuff. It can also serve as the basis to address something more serious: disease diagnostics. Allow me to introduce you to AEYE Health.
AEYE Health uses advanced machine learning and artificial-intelligence technologies to develop algorithms that can detect a variety of retinal conditions in seconds. This test can be performed in various places such as primary care clinics during the annual check-up, and only the patients that are diagnosed with an eye disease or have suspicious findings are referred to the ophthalmologist for treatment.
The company was founded roughly two years ago by two experienced, successful entrepreneurs. It set out to diagnose diseases from retinal images, and is now approaching a crucial milestone: diagnosing images of the fundus.
The fundus is the area toward the bottom of the eye that is exactly opposite the lens. Images from it can be used to detect a variety of illnesses, some of which are vision threatening, such as diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Retinal images can also be used to diagnose systemic diseases: hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, some forms of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, to name a few.
The diagnosis of fundus images is still primarily conducted by highly skilled and experienced humans, which makes the availability of this crucial procedure extremely limited. That leaves many patients with sight threatening conditions to suffer from entirely preventable blindness and vision impairment, or even premature death.
The numbers are staggering, especially when you go beyond vision-related issues. There are an estimated billion people world-wide who are at high risk, out of which about half a billion are diagnosed with diabetes. In the US alone, about 75 million people are considered high risk and should be screened annually.
THE VAST majority, however, does not get screened, in part because the procedure is impractical, expensive and because the number of professionals certified to diagnose is limited. This is where AEYE Health comes in.
AEYE Health’s algorithms are the only ones that can detect a variety of conditions at the highest known degrees of accuracy (specificity and sensitivity), and are designed to work with a variety of cameras, including low-cost, portable hand-held cameras. They are now in the final stages of a multi-site clinical trial required to get the FDA’s clearance. The clearance will enable the deployment of their technology commercially, which will make screening patients’ eyes much more accessible, thus saving them from preventable blindness.
AEYE Health was founded by two experienced entrepreneurs: CEO Dr. Zack Dvey-Aharon, an expert in machine-learning who has founded a number of companies in the field, and COO Danny Margalit, who was the co-founder of Aladdin Knowledge System, which went public on the NASDAQ in 1993 and was acquired in 2009.
There are currently 14 people working for AEYE Health, and the majority of them are mathematicians and software engineers located in the R&D center in Tel Aviv, while the HQ is located in New York. They are backed by Boston based venture-capital funds Falcon and R-Cubed, and a number of angel investors from Israel and the US, including Club 100 from Israel. To date, the company has raised $3 million.
AEYE Health is part of a growing wave of advanced technology companies that use the combined power of neural networks, artificial intelligence, and machine-learning algorithms to make medical treatment much more accessible and cost-effective than it currently is. There are some other giants battling in the same arena, notably Google and IBM. However, in true start-up fashion, AEYE Health is more advanced and widely respected for its under-a-minute noninvasive procedure.
Many family doctors and endocrinologists are already using the technology in their clinics, and have expressed great satisfaction. After all, in addition to saving lives and improving quality of life, AEYE Health’s technologies also encourage current practitioners to become more specialized and perform more intricate tasks for their patients.
I never imagined that in my lifetime such a technology would come into existence; one that would be able to scan eyes for diseases by using almost any camera, from cheap manual scanners to large complicated machines worth tens of thousands of dollars.
AEYE is solving a challenge we have all experienced in one way or another: diagnosing medical conditions effectively. The fact that this company is able to do this using our eyes alone is just mind-boggling, and gives me real hope for the future of diagnostics and healthcare in general.