Celebrated eye hospital Moorfields lets Google eyeball 1 million scans

Access granted to DeepMind for historic data. What consent?

Famous eye hospital Moorfields has agreed to give Google’s DeepMind access to one million anonymous eye scans as a part of a machine learning study intended to spot early signs of sight loss.

Explicit patient consent is not required because the scans are historic, meaning the results won’t affect the care of current patients. Under the project, the hospital will also have access to related anonymous information about their eye conditions and disease management.

DeepMind is a British AI company founded in London in 2010 and acquired by Google in 2014 for £400m. DeepMind Health was launched in February 2016 to work with clinicians in the NHS and other health services.

But earlier this year, a leaked document revealed that the Royal Free NHS trust had controversially signed a deal with DeepMind to give the outfit access to 1.6 million patient records.

The controversial agreement provided Google with access to all patient data going back five years. The hospital trust was also criticised for not being upfront with patients about the project and for not informing them that their personal information was being provided to a commercial entity.

Aware of that PR disaster, Moorfields is no doubt seeking to mitigate criticism by being more open.

Professor Sir Peng Tee Khaw, director of biomedical research at Moorfields, said the research could "revolutionise" the way professionals carry out eye tests, leading to earlier detection and treatment of common eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration.

"With sight loss predicted to double by the year 2050, it is vital we explore the use of cutting-edge technology to prevent eye disease," he said.

Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of DeepMind, said: “We set up DeepMind because we wanted to use AI to help solve some of society's biggest challenges, and diabetic retinopathy is the fastest growing cause of blindness worldwide."

According to Moorfields, two million people in the UK are living with sight loss that has a significant impact on their daily lives.

The leading causes of sight loss are uncorrected refractive error, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

By efficiently analysing the large number of scans and images taken of the eye every year, a machine learning algorithm could ensure the right patients in need of treatment are seen at the right time by the right clinician, said the hospital. ®

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