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Preventing blindness: A software solution for early detection of glaucoma

Researchers have developed new software that can potentially save thousands of people from blindness. The tool developed by researchers from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) can detect ‘glaucoma’ in its early stages, a condition which can cause irreversible blindness if not detected early.

All that the software needs is a fundus image of the eye, which can now be obtained with low-cost sleek camera devices fitted on to smartphones. The Java-based software can analyse a number of images in a minute, and assess whether the person is affected by glaucoma or not. The team is currently converting the software to an Android app.

Glaucoma, popularly known as the ‘Sneak Thief of Sight,’ is the second leading cause of blindness globally. This debilitating disease progresses gradually and the signs of vision impairment are felt only in the advanced stages of glaucoma. The loss of vision caused by glaucoma cannot be reversed making early detection imperative.

Prof. Chandra Sekhar Seelamantula and his PhD student Mr. Harish Kumar J.R. at the Department of Electrical Engineering, IISc have developed a software tool that can automatically screen fundus images of the eye and identify potentially glaucomatous conditions. “It is an automated pre-screening tool to process fundus images, capable of detecting glaucoma with about 90% accuracy,” says Prof. Seelamantula.

One of the parameters that the software calculates is the ‘cup-to-disc ratio’ (CDR) from images of the posterior chamber of the eye, known as the fundus. The CDR is used in ophthalmology to assess the progression of glaucoma. Based on the CDR and other parameters, the software categorizes the condition as mild, moderate, or severely glaucomatous in accordance with internationally accepted guidelines on diagnosis.

Glaucoma detection involves making tedious measurements of a fundus image manually, not to mention the time and effort spent in training manpower to accurately process the images. This software tool can analyse hundreds of images rapidly, and can save hundreds of clinician hours. This feature is particularly useful in glaucoma screening camps conducted by various government departments, hospitals, and NGOs, where technicians painstakingly have to analyse a large number of images.

“The software tool can en masse analyse hundreds of images. Each image takes a few seconds to process, and diagnosis is generated on the fly. The software is Java-based and is therefore compatible with android devices. Healthcare solutions are rapidly moving to the mobile,” explains Dr. Seelamantula.

The software can also be used alongside tabletop or handheld fundus cameras as well, empowering even smaller clinics in rural areas to detect and diagnose potentially glaucomatous conditions. “There is lot of industry interest in this work, from start-ups as well as established companies. We have not yet patented the solution, and are consulting with a few companies for technology transfer,” says Dr. Seelamantula.

With glaucoma affecting more than 12% of the Indian population, large-scale and rapid diagnostic solutions are the need of the hour. In a first step towards making glaucoma pre-screening faster, cheaper, reliable, and accessible, Dr. Seelamantula’s software innovation promises to make a large impact. In the future, preventing blindness due to glaucoma may be as simple as pushing a button on our smartphones!

About the researchers:

Dr. Chandra Sekhar Seelamantula is an Associate Professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Mr. Harish Kumar J.R. is an Assistant Professor at Manipal Institute of Technology, Manipal, and is currently pursuing a PhD with Dr. Chandra Sekhar Seelamantula.

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