Southampton eye expert leads research to better predict blindness

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A Southampton eye expert is leading research using state-of-the-art digital imaging to help predict which patients with early age-related-macular-degeneration (AMD) are most at risk of developing vision loss. 

Professor Andrew Lotery, a specialist ophthalmologist at the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, is leading an international research team which has received nearly £4m funding from the Wellcome Trust to better understand how and why AMD progresses towards visual loss.

A common condition

AMD is a very common eye condition and leading cause of vision loss among people aged 50 and older. It is a complex, inherited, and diverse disease that causes damage to the macula – a small spot near the centre of the retina – that is responsible for detailed central vision and allows us to see objects that are straight ahead.

There are three stages of the condition – early, intermediate and late – and not everyone with early AMD will go on to develop late AMD.

However, currently, there is no way for doctors to tell who will develop the sight-threatening late stage of the disease with some patients progressing slowly, or not at all, while others quickly deteriorate.

Predicting blindness

This five-year research project involves teaching computers to analyse high resolution images of the inside of the eye to help identify what changes appear in patients with early AMD and those who go on to develop the later stage of the condition.

“Our research aims to pinpoint what makes AMD progress from the early stage towards visual loss, and allow us to better predict which patients will progress to the late stages of the condition.

“By understanding more about these changes and why AMD develops, we will be able to better inform patients, clinicians and researchers on prevention, screening and treatments for the condition,” explained Professor Lotery, who is a consultant ophthalmologist at Southampton General Hospital’s Eye Unit.

“We expect the research to give us new insights into how the disease develops and believe new treatments will result from this.”

An international study

The project involves studying over 60,000 retinal images of patients who have already had their eyes scanned as part of UK Biobank. These results will then be compared to  400 patients with early AMD who will have their eyes scanned every four months to detect the earliest stages of disease progression.

This innovative study brings together experts in ophthalmology, genetics, statistics and computer science to collaborate on the project from the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Moorfields Eye Hospital, Medical University of Vienna, University Hospital Basel, Imperial College London and University of Michigan.

Posted on Friday 27 July 2018