From ophthalmology to artificial intelligence
Consultant ophthalmologist and chief medical officer at Visulytix, Sameer Trikha, discusses the synergies between eye care and technology and how he believes artificial technology will impact optics
05 July 2019
I went into medicine because I knew it would provide me with a vocation through which I would have the opportunity to make a difference, both to the individual and at the larger public healthcare level, which has always interested me on an academic level.
During my training I opted to specialise in ophthalmology because it would allow me to work with people of many different ages, while straddling the medical side of treatments, new devices and new technology. Ophthalmology is very forward-thinking like that in comparison to a lot of other medical specialities.
During my seven-year residency in the UK as an ophthalmologist, I completed an MBA in healthcare management, before moving to Singapore for an international fellowship in glaucoma.
My MBA certainly opened up my mind further to the possibility that we could use new technologies for the benefit of eye care. Generally, in eye care we tend to adopt new devices and technology earlier than other medical specialities. On returning to the UK, I joined Moorfields Eye Hospital on a clinical fellowship, after which I became a consultant at King’s College Hospital London.
In late 2016, I founded a company called Visulytix, which aims to provide artificial intelligence (AI) solutions that can improve accuracy, efficiency and workflow in eye care.
Coinciding with this, the idea of AI was becoming popular at the time and I wondered if this technology could be applied to solve the real-world problems that we have in eye care.
I believe that AI will be a bit like having your auto-pilot next to you, guiding you and providing you with added insight
We know that we have an unsustainable experiential rise in the demand for eye care services around the world. By 2040, it’s estimated that around 900 million people will have a form of chronic eye disease.
At the same time, the models of care that we currently provide are not sustainable, they are very old and similar to what we were doing 20–30 years ago. AI provides an opportunity to leverage technology for better insight to help the earlier and more accurate diagnosis of some eye conditions, and in doing so alleviates the burden on specialists who need to see these patients.
Visulytix has grown to a team of 15 people and we now have a CE-marked solution that is being used commercially around the world with a company called Orbis.
Our flagship platform is called Pegasus, which is being used by Orbis across 125 countries, mainly in the developing world, for eye care screening and for diagnostic assistance.
We have just been approved and listed as the first AI company on the ‘Standard List’ of recommended vendors from the International Association for the Prevention of Blindness.
Ultimately, this means increased commercial use of our solution.
I think the use of AI technology in optometric practice will empower optometrists to be able to detect conditions earlier and refer more appropriately
Now that Pegasus has CE-approval, it is starting to be rolled out across other healthcare organisations and my hope is that this will increase further.
Looking to the future, I would love the Pegasus system to be used in every optometric practice in the country and a modified version available in hospitals so that we can pick up more people with macular degeneration and glaucoma earlier, and therefore we can prevent blindness.
A career highlight for me was securing the agreement for Pegasus with Orbis as it was a realisation of the original goal of the company
– to create an AI system that would help eye care providers around the world in places where they don’t have the resources and skills to provide specialist level diagnostics. We have now succeeded in that mission and that was a very proud moment.
I think the use of AI technology in optometric practice will empower optometrists to be able to detect conditions earlier and refer more appropriately.
I don’t think in any way that it will replace optometrists or eye care providers. I believe that AI will be a bit like having your auto-pilot next to you, guiding you and providing you with added insight.
Plan BIf I had not elected for a career in ophthalmology, I would have liked to become a professional cricketer. I’ve always loved the game and played to a reasonable level when I was younger. I’m sure it would have been an incredibly rewarding but challenging career.
- As told to Emily McCormick.