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Tuesday, 23 May, 2000, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
'Quicker diagnosis' for eye disease
Eye test
Diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy to get computer boost
Technology soon to be available in high street opticians will halve the time taken to diagnose eye disease in diabetics, say researchers.

Under the current system, photographs are taken of the retina and these are then analysed by hand to check for abnormalities.

Anything that makes the screening system more accessible to diabetic patients is going to be good

Malcolm McPherson, optician
But new software would allow the analysis to be carried out by a computer, with the programme ranking pictures according to the number of abnormalities present.

Diabetic eye disease, known as diabetic retinopathy, is the most common cause of blindness among people of working age in the western world.

The condition is characterised by the presence of microaneurysms - blood vessels in the retina - which have dilated so much that tiny leakages occur.

The development is the result of a 10 year study at the University of Aberdeen.

Dr John Olson, a consultant in medical ophthalmology at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary who was involved in the research, said 2% of the UK population suffers from diabetes, meaning a huge number of photographs had to be analysed.

He said: "Around two-thirds of people with diabetes will have no diabetic eye disease, but the other third will have it.

"If you don't have a computer system somebody has to look through all the images. What our software will do is say 'yes, there is retinopathy' or 'no, there is not'.

"Basically we reckon we can halve the work load."

Focus attention

He added: "It will focus attention on people who need to be looked at, and make it more economical."

The system is thought to be the first of its kind in the world. Screening is vital as catching the disease early prevents people losing their sight.

Scientists at the university are now working with a private firm - Digital Health Care Ltd - to develop a commercial package for the system.

Malcolm McPherson, an optometrist and partner at McPherson's Optician in Aberdeen, described the new software as an "excellent development".

Mr McPherson, who trained in the screening and grading of diabetic eye disease, said: "Diabetic retinopathy is the most common complication of diabetes, so it's a big problem.

"Anything that makes the screening system more accessible to diabetic patients is going to be good."

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31 May 99 | Health
Drive to promote eye tests
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