The Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore has set up a new centre which seeks to promote community-based eye healthcare.
The newly-established Centre for Innovation and Precision Eye Health is drawing on population health metrics – powered by new medical devices, AI, and population-level data – to spot patterns and trends in the general eye health of the Singaporean people. It also aims to utilise population-level data to do research that will deliver the most effective screening and treatment options for patients according to disease severity and risks.
The centre has been working on new cost-efficient AI algorithms for screening and detecting eye diseases. It has developed retinal photo-based AI algorithms for detecting visual impairment and cataracts, as well as for predicting biological age and the risks of cardiovascular diseases. These algorithms are set to be tested in clinical trials where their real-world performance will be evaluated.
It has also developed the following new eye disease screening and monitoring devices for primary care settings, funded by Temasek Foundation:
Automated Visual Acuity – measures the eyes’ ability to distinguish shapes at a distance;
Self-Tonometry device – monitoring of intra-ocular pressure that measures eye pressure through the eyelids.
These devices are now being tried out in a pilot programme, which involves more than 230 senior participants at Pioneer Polyclinic. There is a plan to expand this community-based pilot to more polyclinics soon.
In addition, the centre is using genomic data to develop precision gene and cell therapy for currently untreatable and blinding retinal degenerative eye diseases. It is also combining its present research capabilities with industry partners including US-based biotech company RxCell, which utilises stem cell regenerative technologies, to improve health outcomes for people with critical retinal eye diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration and inherited retinal dystrophies.
WHY IT MATTERS
Singapore is facing a fast-ageing population. In 2022, people aged 65 and above made up 18% or nearly one in five of the population, increasing from 11% in 2012. Over the next decade, senior citizens would make up a quarter of the population, according to estimates.
The country is now focusing on preventive care at the community level given this reality, along with rising incidence of chronic diseases including eye diseases.
However, there are challenges. At present, only specialist centres in Singapore offer access to tertiary ophthalmic care, which is capable of detecting eye diseases early. The expensive and bulky diagnostic eye equipment typically used at these specialist centres and hospitals also pose as a hindrance for patients to get checked for eye diseases early.
“Through the use of evidence-based innovation, AI-powered digital infrastructure, and scalable community-based care models, this centre will help to meet the increasing demands of eye care in our ageing population,” NUS Medicine Dean Professor Chong Yap Seng said about the opening of their new centre for eye health.
Meanwhile, the centre also intends to help healthcare planners harness population health metrics and emerging technologies to delegate resources in priority areas.
THE LARGER TREND
Johnson & Johnson Vision is currently working on some initiatives to fulfil its three-year roadmap for developing Singapore’s integrated eye health ecosystem. It includes building a community eye health e-referral network, an AI-powered eye care service, and telehealth.
Last year, the company started a partnership with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research to establish an Eye Health Digital Innovation Consortium, which seeks to advance eye health research across Asia-Pacific.
ON THE RECORD
“With advances in AI and digital technology, we now have better capabilities and infrastructure to devise and adopt AI algorithms which will bring about important insights into the hidden pattern of diseases, that may otherwise be obscured by limitations of traditional analytic tools,” said Prof Cheng Ching-Yu, director of the Centre for Innovation and Precision Eye Health.