Iowa City software company on verge of breakthrough in blindness

The IDx-DR, an artificial intelligence camera system, captures an image of the eye, looking for signs of diabetic retinopathy.

More than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes, and according to eye specialists, 10 percent -- or 10 million -- could eventually go blind due to complications from the disease.

Diabetic retinopathy is the result of high blood sugar levels damaging blood vessels in the retina, which results in vision loss.

"Approximately 24,000 people in America go blind from diabetic retinopathy on an annual basis," explains John Casko, the business development vice president for software company IDx in Iowa City.

The disease is the leading cause of preventable blindness for working-age Americans, and can be treated if detected early.

The problem -- diabetic retinopathy is difficult to detect before symptoms surface. After they do, it's typically too late.

"If you're late and you have symptoms, there may be irreversible damage," said Dr. Michael Abramoff, the founder and president of IDx.

The software company has been working tirelessly to identify a solution, developing an AI-based system -- the IDx-DR -- to detect abnormalities in the retina.

The exam is non-invasive, as the IDx-DR captures images of the eye and determines, through a computer algorithm, if the patient should be sent to an eye care specialist.

The technology has received a breakthrough device designation by the FDA, meaning the review period will be quicker.

"This [designation] means they think it could be a game-changer," said Abramoff.

If approved by the FDA, IDx is planning to unveil this technology in primary care facilities.

The software company completed an in-depth clinical trial, training people with no previous camera experience to operate the device.

The trial had a 96 percent success rate over six months, in which 900 patients were seen and more than 3,600 images were captured.

Click here to learn more about the IDx-DR's status as a breakthrough device.

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