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New Zealand Researchers Use Artificial Intelligence in Fight Against Glaucoma

In time for New Zealand’s Glaucoma Awareness Month this March, an ongoing study in New Zealand is becoming a potential gamechanger for the early detection of glaucoma by using  Artificial Intelligence (AI). This study is one of many research projects, supported by Glaucoma NZ, that is being undertaken by New Zealand researchers to try and save unnecessary sight loss for thousands of their countrymen. Many people have no idea that they even have glaucoma, which is why it’s commonly referred to as ‘the thief of sight’.

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve. Most people experience no symptoms in the early stages and the only way to know if you have it is to have an eye test. Worldwide, there are about 20 million people that suffer from glaucoma — a number bound to increase to over 111 million by 2040.

Dr William Schierding and Professor Helen Danesh-Meyer are conducting the research. They are using machine learning to develop a revolutionary glaucoma risk score for individuals that better predicts the likelihood of developing glaucoma based on environmental and biological profiles. Machine Learning (ML) as a technology is more popularly called Artificial Intelligence (AI).

What makes this research groundbreaking is that it could pave the way forward for glaucoma prevention. Vision loss caused by glaucoma cannot be repaired, but further eyesight loss is preventable with early detection and treatment.

The research supported by Glaucoma NZ is one of the many ways that we help to reduce unnecessary eye loss due to glaucoma for New Zealanders. The invaluable information that research such as this provides will enable us to direct our limited resources into priority areas and provide benefits to those who need it most.

Professor Helen Danesh Meyer, Chairperson, Glaucoma NZ

Glaucoma New Zealand or Glaucoma NZ is a non-government funded charitable trust established in 2002 with a mission to eliminate blindness from glaucoma. In their drive – Glaucoma Awareness Month – this March, the organisation is highlighting the importance of prevention in the fight against glaucoma, educating New Zealanders about the disease, and promoting regular eye health checks for those aged over 45. Their annual Awareness Month kicked off on 1 March, with the highlight being World Glaucoma Awareness Week from 6 to 12 March.

Ministry of Health data shows about 2% of New Zealanders over 40 years of age have glaucoma. People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop the disease. Glaucoma is estimated to affect some 91,000 people in the nation. This makes it the second most common cause of blindness and low vision in New Zealanders over 65.

Moreover, the study could save thousands of people on the island from blindness. It is estimated that 50,000 New Zealanders are unknowingly living with glaucoma, one of the leading causes of irreversible blindness.

The game-changing research that uses AI is part of Glaucoma NZ’s Eye Believe campaign.  The group is asking the public to submit their ideas about what can be achieved with investment in glaucoma research and education. The public collaboration should generate more awareness into their drive to prevent glaucoma.

New Zealand NZ’s initiative to collaborate with the public is a reflection of its government’s digital transformation drive. As reported on OpenGov Asia, Wellington is finalising the nation’s digital strategy via the Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) by generating feedback from stakeholders which should include every citizen in the Pacific Island.

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