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FDA approves AI-powered software to detect diabetic retinopathy

The software can be used by health care providers who don't typically deal with eye care.
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smirart via Getty Images

30.3 million Americans have diabetes according to a 2015 CDC study. An additional 84.1 million have prediabetes, which often leads to the full disease within five years. It's important to detect diabetes early to avoid health complications like heart disease, stroke, amputation of extremities and vision loss. Technology increasingly plays an important role in early detection, too. In that vein, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just approved an AI-powered device that can be used by non-specialists to detect diabetic retinopathy in adults with diabetes.

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the high levels of blood sugar in the bloodstream cause damage to your retina's blood vessels. It's the most common cause of vision loss, according to the FDA. The approval comes for a device called IDx-DR, a software program that uses an AI algorithm to analyze images of the eye that can be taken in a regular doctor's office with a special camera, the Topcon NW400.

The photos are then uploaded to a server that runs IDx-DR, which can then tell the doctor if there is a more than mild level of diabetic retinopathy present. If not, it will advise a re-screen in 12 months. The device and software can be used by health care providers who don't normally provide eye care services. The FDA warns that you shouldn't be screened with the device if you have had laser treatment, eye surgery or injections, as well as those with other conditions, like persistent vision loss, blurred vision, floaters, previously diagnosed macular edema and more.

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