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Seeing Trouble

Routine retinal imaging can predict risk of heart conditions

29 March 2022

Seeing Trouble

Poetically described as the windows to the soul, our eyes can also reveal the condition of our hearts. Small changes in the fine blood vessels supplying the retina, the layer of light-sensitive cells in our eyes, are linked to characteristics of the heart associated with cardiovascular disease. These subtle signs can be revealed with retinal scans (pictured), a technique routinely performed by opticians to diagnose diseases of the eyes. Using machine learning techniques, researchers devised an artificial intelligence system capable of estimating heart properties and predicting the risk of heart attacks based on retinal scans: after training with over 5000 patient images, the system could identify patients likely to experience a heart attack with around 70% accuracy. With further refinements, this tool could mean that, in future, checking your vision will also flag up elevated risk of serious heart conditions, improving the chances of earlier detection and more effective treatments.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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