Published: Tue, February 20, 2018
Medical | By Josefina Yates

Google's new AI algorithm predicts heart disease by looking at your eyes

Google's new AI algorithm predicts heart disease by looking at your eyes

These parameters could be used to predict if the person had a raised risk of heart disease or a cardiac event such as a heart attack.

Luke Oakden-Rayner, a medical researcher at the University of Adelaide who specialises in machine learning analysis, told the website that the AI algorithm could improve existing analytic tools in the industry. He added that this should not be seen as a replacement for diagnostic tests and clinical judgement but merely an analyser that would be an extension of the diagnostic armament. But no one taught the algorithms what to look for: Instead, the systems taught themselves, by reviewing enough data to learn the patterns often found in the eyes of people at risk.

The risk factors include the person's gender, smoking status, blood pressure and age-estimated to within four years of the patient's actual age.

"With medical images, observing and quantifying associations can often be hard because of the wide variety of features, patterns, colors, values, and shapes that are present in real data".

"To make this useful for patients, we will be seeking to understand the effects of interventions such as lifestyle changes or medications on our risk predictions and we will be generating new hypotheses and theories to test", Peng said.

Google is betting on established research on building this algorithm.

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"This performance approaches the accuracy of other [cardiovascular] risk calculators that require a blood draw to measure cholesterol", Peng wrote. When given the retinal image of a patient who experienced a major cardiovascular event up to five years after the image was taken, and the image of a patient who did not, the algorithm could determine which patient experienced the health event 70% of the time.

Experts believe that this is a credible study mainly because the science behind the hypothesis is sound.

If the eyes are the window to the soul, Google thinks it's proven that the retina can offer a window to the state of the heart. They are also showing promise in other arenas of health, including by looking for signs of cancer in the X-ray scans reviewed by radiologists.

While the news is definitely encouraging, Google cautions that more research needs to be done.

"The caveat to this is that it's early (and) we trained this on a small data set", Lily Peng, an MD and lead researcher of the Google AI project, said. It was only trained on images with a 45-degree field of view, meaning the AI model would need to be retrained for other eye images, and larger datasets would be needed before such an AI system is ready for use in clinical trials.

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