Using the eye as a window into heart disease

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In a new study from the University of Leeds, researchers have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system that can analyze eye scans taken during a routine visit to an eye clinic and identify patients at a high risk of a heart attack.

They have recognized that changes to the tiny blood vessels in the retina are indicators of broader vascular disease, including problems with the heart.

Deep learning techniques were used to train the AI system to automatically read retinal scans and identify those people who, over the following year, were likely to have a heart attack.

Deep learning is a complex series of algorithms that enable computers to identify patterns in data and to make predictions.

The researchers report that the AI system had an accuracy of between 70% and 80% and could be used as a second referral mechanism for in-depth heart examination.

During the deep learning process, the AI system analyzed the retinal scans and cardiac scans of more than 5,000 people.

The AI system identified associations between pathology in the retina and changes in the patient’s heart.

Once the image patterns were learned, the AI system could estimate the size and pumping efficiency of the left ventricle, one of the heart’s four chambers, from retinal scans alone. An enlarged ventricle is linked with an increased risk of heart disease.

With information on the estimated size of the left ventricle and its pumping efficiency combined with basic demographic data about the patient, their age and sex, the AI system could make a prediction about their risk of a heart attack over the subsequent 12 months.

Currently, details about the size and pumping efficiency of a patient’s left ventricle can only be determined if they have diagnostic tests such as echocardiography or magnetic resonance imaging of the heart.

Those diagnostic tests can be expensive and are often only available in a hospital setting, making them inaccessible for people in countries with less well-resourced healthcare systems—or unnecessarily increasing healthcare costs and waiting times in developed countries.

The use of deep learning in the analysis of retinal scans could revolutionize the way patients are regularly screened for signs of heart disease.

If you care about heart health, please read studies about how to control your cholesterol to prevent heart attacks and strokes, and common sleep issue that could increase your heart death risk.

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies about two dietary supplements that could prevent heart disease, stroke, and results showing this supplement could keep dementia at bay.

The study is published in Nature Machine Intelligence. One author of the study is Professor Alex Frangi.

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