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People power being used to help sight-saving research

A child's eyes

Have you ever fancied trying your hand as a researcher?

The ‘Eyes on Eyes’ Initiative is providing an exciting opportunity for the public to help with research that could prevent blindness in children.

Members of the public are being asked to examine and evaluate high-resolution images of the potentially blinding eye condition, uveitis, as part of a project working across Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), University College London (UCL), Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health (GOS ICH) and Moorfields Eye Hospital.

Uveitis is a form of eye inflammation that can cause vision loss and is one of the most common reasons behind adults attending eye casualty clinics. Although less common in children, the disorder affects as many as 3,000-5,000 children in the UK.

Because young children find it hard to explain sight problems, it can often be too late for sight-saving treatment by the time their symptoms are obvious. Early identification is therefore crucial and the Eye on Eye initiative is helping work towards building Artificial Intelligence (AI) that can detect it.

Usually, an eye specialist must painstakingly examine images from a child’s eye, and specialists are not always readily available. Using AI to scan the images is an exciting option but AI must first be taught how to do it – and this is where the public can help.

Eyes on Eyes is a ‘citizen science’ project where members of the public are asked to read simple instructions and then analyse an image of the eye. By analysing 1000s of images in this way, work that would have taken research teams months to complete, can be undertaken in days.

Results will help the research teams at GOSH, UCL GOS ICH and Moorfields spot signs of uveitis, offer treatment earlier and develop AI for the patients who don’t have access to such specialists; potentially saving a child’s sight.

Eyes on Eyes launched on the citizen science platform, ‘Zooniverse’, in May this year. The initiative is funded by the NIHR, GOSH Charity, UCL GOS ICH, and the NIHR Moorfields BRC, with underpinning support from the GOSH BRC.

Dr Lola Solebo leads the project and is based at the new Sight and Sound Centre at GOSH. She is delighted that the public are coming forward to help with the research and that the project is off to a flying start. She says:

“The Zooniverse project will also help us to ‘bank’ the analysed images we need, to train artificial intelligence to analyse images for us.

“It’s been wonderful to see so many people volunteering their time to help us develop the best ways to use OCT cameras to improve care for children with this blinding inflammatory eye disorder. Thanks to budding scientists across the UK, children with this blinding disease are already being diagnosed and treated far more quickly.

“Our work has already shown that OCT scans are as reliable as experts, but with the detailed views they give us, they could allow us to really understand what is going on in a child’s eye when they have uveitis – and of course in adult eyes too!

“It’s exciting to think that advances in paediatric care will also be helping to develop adult care, as all too often it happens the other way around, with clinical teams having to adapt adult innovations for children.”

The project is still recruiting volunteers and budding home-researchers can get involved via the Eyes on Eyes, Zooniverse website.