Zack Dvey-Aharon, Ph.D., is the CEO and Co-Founder of AEYE Health, a company with a mission to prevent world blindness. With AEYE Health’s automated diagnostic system, retinal screening becomes accessible practically anywhere.
What initially attracted you to AI?
I started working on data analytics when I was 12 years old. Later, when I was doing a Ph.D. in machine learning at Tel Aviv University, I developed a fascination with machine learning and the way it can advance healthcare. When I researched heart data (phonocardiograms) and brain data (EEG and fMRI), I realized that if the brain and the heart are the engines of the body, then the eyes are its mirror. With this realization, I began exploring healthcare of the eyes, and discovered the world of retinal screening. In 2018, I turned to my friend Danny Margalit, former founder of one of Israel’s largest tech companies, he was immediately intrigued by the system I started developing. He joined me and together we formed what later became AEYE Health.
Why did you choose to tackle worldwide blindness?
Today, it is estimated that over a billion people worldwide and 75 million people in the US alone are at high risk of developing sight-threatening conditions. But those estimates show that over 75% of them don’t get tested for those conditions. The reason for this is usually the high cost of the testing or the lack of easy access to such screening. To me, this situation has to change! That’s why we at AEYE Health have developed an AI-based retinal screening system which can be easily integrated into existing fundus cameras and provide diagnosis of the retina within 1 minute. It is an easy, quick and affordable solution that ensures that every high risk patient is able to be screened on an annual basis.
How important is an annual eye inspection?
Many retinal conditions, whether diabetic retinopathy (DR), glaucoma or macular degeneration develop over time which makes early detection of such conditions key to saving people’s eye sight – and significantly improve their quality of life. It is important to note that DR is the leading cause of blindness in American adults.
What can be learned by looking into the human eye?
Already thousands of years ago, the Chinese understood that the eye is an important diagnostic tool. Today, with our technology, a retinal test can help diagnose various diseases including high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and various illnesses that lead to vision loss.
Can you discuss the type of machine learning applications that are used in the AEYE Diagnostic System?
We have created algorithms – combining artificial intelligence, machine learning and computer vision technologies which are based on hundreds of thousands of data examples and scan the retina to diagnose various eye diseases and other ailments.
What type of accuracy have you achieved for detections of different issues such as dementia and cancer?
Our trials are still undergoing so I wouldn’t want to disclose a specific number. All of our retinal screenings have high-quality results. We will be happy to share our analysis and the results once they’re published.
Can you discuss the process and how long it takes to get results?
The process is very simple with results within 1 minute. First, we take an image of the patient’s retina using a portable, easy to operate fundus camera.
At that moment, the images are uploaded to our secure cloud system for analysis by our AI algorithms. The results are sent back within 1 minute – to either a PC or a mobile phone.
According to the results, patients who require further checks or treatments are referred to ophthalmologists or other relevant physicians. Those whose tests came back clear are asked to return for the annual check again.
What type of trials have been performed?
Our company collaborates with healthcare systems and research institutions to analyze data of patients having a wide range of indications related to both sight-threatening conditions and systemic diseases. We have performed dozens of different research analyses as part of those collaborations, some of them featuring hundreds of thousands of patients’ retinal images. As our clinical trials are still ongoing, I cannot disclose any further information at the moment.
How has the medical community reacted to AEYE Health?
We have been receiving enthusiastic responses from all relevant stakeholders in the medical community. The primary care and endo clinics are excited to provide better care to their patients. Normally, their patients are reluctant to visit the ophthalmologist for a retinal screening test. With our system, they are finally able to screen their patients themselves and ensure they are tested on the spot. Ophthalmologists who are usually frustrated because they see too many patients arrive too late, with severe retinal conditions. These ophthalmologists keep telling us how excited they are now as they see how our solution will make sure that they see patients in a stage that their condition is still treatable.
We also get great responses from insurance companies dealing with huge costs related to retinal illnesses, and see how incorporating our solution in their system has huge potential benefits both in the short and long term.
Having said that, I have to say the best responses we receive still come from the patients. For some of them, our system finally provides accessible screening solutions that helps them protect their eye sight and preserve their quality of life. Some have learned for the first time – thanks to our technology – that they have a sight-threatening condition that requires medical attention and could lead to blindness if left untreated.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about AEYE Diagnostic System?
Our goal is to enable retinal checks to take place everywhere — pharmacies, primary care settings, hospitals. This requires not only accurate algorithms but to make them work with small, portable devices – in real conditions. This is the only way to prevent blindness and save lives.
Thank you for the interview, readers who wish to learn more should visit AEYE Health.