Eye Spy: SocialEyes Uses Deep Learning to Spot Serious Eye Problems

by Tonie Hansen

Nicholas Bedworth sees a solution to a major healthcare problem – sight loss caused by chronic diseases – through the eyes of those who need help most.

As the founder of SocialEyes, Bedworth is working with an international team of scientists, physicians and engineers to develop apps that deliver healthcare at scale in places where doctors are scarce.

The first, MARVIN (for mobile autonomous retinal evaluation) – which runs on GPU-powered Android tablets – helps community health workers manage eye problems caused by diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease close to home. Untreated, these lead to a host of debilitating problems, including blindness.

People waiting to be assessed at Kabilash VDC's Eye Camp in Nuwakot, Nepal
People waiting to be assessed at Kabilash VDC’s Eye Camp in Nuwakot, Nepal

“In rural Nepal, if someone isn’t bleeding, they often won’t go to get help,” Bedworth said. “Tablet-based assessment tools make it easier to get care and enables early detection of problems in the retina. With medical staff often coming from the local community, patients can learn how to stay well from people they know.”

Searching for Disease Signatures

Eye care in developing countries occurs in overflowing general hospitals and clinics, as well as “outreach camps,” where hundreds to thousands of patients are seen over a few days.

In such settings, MARVIN, running on NVIDIA SHIELD tablets, can bring “best practice” care to “the edge,” where medical resources of any kind—let alone specialty services such as ophthalmology—are always in short supply, Bedworth said.

SocialEyes’ GPU-enabled image processing and machine learning software spots “signatures” of retinal problems caused by diabetes and related diseases.

An app can assess the retina’s condition and treatment can begin immediately, rather than waiting days for a report to come back from a remote tele-health grading center. By working offline—without an Internet connection—MARVIN allows local management of symptoms that would otherwise trigger an automatic and costly specialist referral.

This comes as those needing care is soaring worldwide. Some 415 million adults already have diabetes, a number forecast to rise by 50 percent in 25 years, according to the World Diabetes Foundation. Most new cases are occurring in low-income countries, where resources are strained and many people aren’t even aware of their condition until a crisis occurs. MARVIN can help identify these hidden cases earlier, when intervention can be most effective.

National Coverage from the Community Level

Major healthcare organizations in South Asia are harnessing technological innovation to address emerging medical challenges. By introducing tablet-based tools, they can create a workforce large enough to deliver care across an entire country. Pilot projects are now under development that will bring MARVIN to over 2.5 million people a year, starting in Nepal, Bangladesh and India.

SocialEyes founder Nicholas Bedworth demonstrating a tablet at an Eye Camp in Nepal
SocialEyes founder Nicholas Bedworth demonstrating a tablet in Nepal

Millennial healthcare workers, already savvy about smartphones, can easily learn how to use app-based solutions such as MARVIN.

They can evolve into ophthalmic technology professionals, and go on to manage service delivery in their communities.

“Equipping local medical workers with easy-to-use, but powerful, healthcare technology allows them to make an enduring contribution to their country,” Bedworth said.

“Preserving good vision throughout the working life and retirement of an individual makes a huge difference to the welfare of the entire family and community,” he said.