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Preventing blindness focus of ORNL Technology, AMDx


Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers Ken Tobin (left) and Tom Karnowski see TRIAD as something that could be a life-changer for people at risk of diabetic retinopathy and other potentially blinding diseases. (Photo by Ron Walli/ORNL)

Automated Medical Diagnostics (AMDx), a startup company based in Memphis, envisions its product helping to preserve the sight of millions of people at risk of vision loss from diabetic retinopathy. Using Telemedical Retinal Image Analysis and Diagnosis, a technology recently licensed by AMDx from the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, patients can quickly be screened for the disease in their primary care doctor's office and other remote sites, permitting early detection and referral for diabetic retinopathy and other retinal diseases.

"If diabetic retinopathy is detected early, treatments can preserve vision and significantly reduce the incidence of debilitating blindness," said Edward Chaum, an ophthalmologist and Plough Foundation professor of retinal diseases at the UT Health Science Center Hamilton Eye Institute in Memphis. Chaum and ORNL's Ken Tobin, partners in AMDx, led the team that developed a method for teaching computers to aid in the diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy and other blinding eye diseases. The Web-based technology uses a digital camera that takes pictures of the retina at a primary care physician's office or other remote clinical site. The patient's medical data and retinal images are sent to a server and processed through the patented system that quickly sorts through large databases and finds visually similar images representing equivalent states of diabetic eye disease. This allows diagnoses to be made in seconds so patients will know before they leave the office if they have no eye disease or if they need to follow up with a retinal specialist.

Conventional techniques require a patient to wait several days to receive results. "With the TRIAD network, all of the computed diagnoses are sent to an ophthalmologist for review and sign-off of the computer-generated
report, much like what is done for an EKG," Tobin said. "Over time, our hope is that the number of reports requiring physician review will be reduced as the performance of the TRIAD network is proven through clinical testing." "What separates this from other methods is that we have automated the process of diagnosing retinal disease by capturing the expert knowledge of an ophthalmologist in a digital patient archive," Tobin said.

This allows far more people to undergo screening, especially the indigent and those in areas that are medically underserved. Tobin and Chaum see AMDx and TRIAD as a game changer, providing diabetic patients with easy access to screening cameras in primary care medical practices and a variety of other settings.

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