Digital eye scan provides accurate picture of a person's general health

November 28, 2017, Medical University of Vienna
Credit: Medical University of Vienna

Personalized medicine or "precision medicine" is the most significant trend in 21st century medicine. "It's all about the right treatment for the right patient at the right time," says Ursula Schmidt-Erfurth, Head of MedUni Vienna's Department of Ophthalmology and Optometry. And looking into the eye – using digital techniques and analysing Big Data – also provides an accurate picture of a person's general medical condition, facilitates early diagnosis and treatment and makes for transparent patients. The ART-2017 specialist conference (Advanced Retinal Therapy) is characterised by these digital developments in personalised medicine.

"As a window into the condition of a person's brain and vascular system, the retina offers huge insights into their Life Science data," explains Schmidt-Erfurth at today's press conference about ART 2017. In collaboration with the Department of Medicine III and the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, headed up by Anton Luger, it will in future be possible for doctors at MedUni Vienna to make an on-the-sport diagnosis of diabetes from the eye, using the first automated digital retinal screening technique, without the help of an ophthalmologist.

In terms of diagnostic imaging, the eye is a unique part of the human body. Using OCT (optical coherence tomography) technology, 40,000 scans are produced within 1.2 seconds, with a total volume of 65 million voxels. The term voxel is a contraction of "volume" and "element" and refers to a grid point in a three-dimensional grid and overall to a huge volume of information about a patient's retina.

The OCT data are analysed using automated algorithms generated on the basis of Artificial Intelligence. Both the device and the AI method were developed by the Medical University of Vienna, notably at the Center for Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering and in the OPTIMA Christian Doppler laboratory, under the supervision of Schmidt-Erfurth. Christoph Hitzenberger und Adolf Fercher from the Center for Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering were awarded this year's Dolores H. Russ Prize, the "Nobel Prize for Engineering Sciences", for the early development of OCT as a technique. Moreover, Ursula Schmidt-Erfurth has just been awarded the Donald Gass Medal by the most prominent society in the USA, the Macula Society, and also holds several patents for development of these algorithms.

Personal and medical Life Data

"A digital image of the retina provides us with an enormous amount of data, offering information about a person's entire personal and medical Life Data," explains Schmidt-Erfurth. "Not only about existing or potential diseases, but also about lifestyle." For example, the retina shows how old a person is, their gender, smoking habits, blood pressure and whether they have diabetes, or at least an increased risk of developing it.

"It has hitherto not been possible for us, as internists, to look into the eye, because we lacked diagnostic experience and did not have the necessary equipment in our department. Diabetes and high blood-pressure are very common conditions and, in many patients, result in long-term retinal damage," explains Florian Kiefer, internist at MedUni Vienna's Department of Medicine III. "By incorporating these new technologies into clinical care, we will be able to obtain a much more accurate picture of our patients' general health, so that we will not only be able to offer them individual information and advice but also customised treatments. This innovative approach represents a further important step towards better comprehensive care of the rapidly increasing number of diabetics."

Moreover, it might be possible in future to detect diseases of internal organs, such as the kidneys, or age-related problems and neurological diseases from the retina.

Says Schmidt-Erfurth: "A large number of digital techniques are already being used in the management of eye conditions, always with the aim of improving standards of ophthalmological care. Digital retinal scanning is an additional revolutionary step in this direction. However, it also opens up a whole universe of potential applications, far beyond purely medical ones... and an essential change to the job description of doctors in the near future."

Explore further: New guidelines for treating diabetic retinal degeneration

Related Stories

New guidelines for treating diabetic retinal degeneration

July 9, 2015
Around 600,000 Austrians suffer from diabetes. This condition is frequently associated with serious retinal disorders. Along with age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinal degeneration is one of the most common causes ...

200 years of the eye clinic: Diseases of the retina can be predicted

November 28, 2012
Using optical coherence tomography (OCT), diseases of the retina such as age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy or vascular occlusions can be predicted before symptoms develop. OCT has been developed in collaboration ...

New OCT technique provides better 3-D imaging of the cellular structure of the eye

August 7, 2017
Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) is a high-resolution live imaging technique that can be used for early detection of retinal diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration , diabetes-related conditions, glaucoma or ...

New technologies for retinal therapies

June 19, 2013
The future of the investigation and treatment of retinal disorders is already here at the MedUni Vienna: in the new Christian Doppler "OPTIMA" (Ophthalmic Image Analysis) laboratory headed by Ursula Schmidt-Erfurth, Director ...

Drusen as promising biomarkers for progression of macular degeneration

June 7, 2017
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a common disease of the centre of the retina, primarily affecting those aged over 50. The first signs of the disease are so-called drusen, which occur under the retina in the form ...

Precision radiooncology enables women to maintain an active sex life after gynaecological radiotherapy

November 2, 2017
Up until now, gynaecological radiotherapy for cervical, vaginal or vulvar cancer has often been associated with substantial side-effects in the vagina that prevented women from pursuing an active sex life afterwards. Using ...

Recommended for you

Breakthrough article on mechanistic features of microRNA targeting and activity

March 23, 2018
Giovanna Brancati and Helge Grosshans from the FMI have described target specialization of miRNAs of the let-7 family. They identified target site features that determine specificity, and revealed that specificity can be ...

Boosting enzyme may help improve blood flow, fitness in elderly

March 22, 2018
As people age, their blood-vessel density and blood flow decrease, which is why it's harder to maintain muscle mass after 40 and endurance in the later decades, even with exercise. This vascular decline is also one of the ...

Scientists pinpoint cause of vascular aging in mice

March 22, 2018
We are as old as our arteries, the adage goes, so could reversing the aging of blood vessels hold the key to restoring youthful vitality?

Sulfur amino acid restriction diet triggers new blood vessel formation in mice

March 22, 2018
Putting mice on a diet containing low amounts of the essential amino acid methionine triggered the formation of new blood vessels in skeletal muscle, according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. ...

Cold can activate body's 'good' fat at a cellular level, study finds

March 21, 2018
Lower temperatures can activate the body's 'good' fat formation at a cellular level, a new study led by academics at The University of Nottingham has found.

Gradual release of immunotherapy at site of tumor surgery prevents tumors from returning

March 21, 2018
A new study by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute scientists suggests it may be possible to prevent tumors from recurring and to eradicate metastatic growths by implanting a gel containing immunotherapy during surgical removal ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.