A group of scientists working for Google’s parent company Alphabet have used artificial intelligence to determine a person’s risk of having a heart attack from their retinal scan by using AI algorithm.


Recently the method—detailed in a paper published on Monday in the Nature journal Biomedical Engineering—involves analyzing blood vessels in an area of the eye called the retinal fundus.

The scientist’s team from Verily, formerly known as Google Life Sciences, developed the algorithm in the hope of making accurate assessments of patients’ cardiovascular health more quickly and easily than current methods.

Furthermore, your eyes, they say, are the windows to your soul — and according to a new;your eyes may also be the windows to an impending heart attack.

In the new study, Google researchers used retinal-scan data from nearly 300,000patients to "train" a neural network — an intricate series of algorithms — to detect heart-health risks just by looking at images of a patient's eyes. The algorithm was able to predict which patients would go on to experience a major adverse cardiac event (such as a heart attack or stroke)with about 70-percent accuracy, according to the study, which was published online yesterday (Feb. 19) in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Though a 70-percent success rate is still below the accuracy of existing heart-health diagnostic methods like blood tests that measure cholesterol and other key biomarkers, researchers believe the algorithm could one day be developed as a first line of preventive care. "This may be a rapid way for people to screen for risk," Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist at Yale University who was not involved with the study, told The Washington Post. The algorithm's potential seems promising, researchers say. How does the algorithmic device works ?

  • The new AI algorithm analyses retinal scans to predict your age and blood pressure
  • It then uses this data to analyze your risk of suffering a major cardiac event 
  • Device is far less invasive than a traditional blood test but is just as accurate
  • The AI is able to tell whether or not a patient would suffer a cardiovascular event in the next five years with a 70 per cent accuracy


A new robot created by Google analyses scans of the back of your eye to accurately predict risk factors including age, blood pressure, and whether or not you smoke. The AI uses standard retinal scans (left image) to analyze retinal blood vessels (green in left image).

Eyes are the windows of your heart health

Whether you're getting your eyes scanned by a trained ophthalmologist or Google AI, the biggest clues to your overall health may lie in your blood vessels.

Blood vessels can provide a valuable snapshot of your heart health, revealing clots,constrictions and other abnormalities associated with various cardiovascular diseases and conditions. But because most blood vessels in your body are hidden beneath your skin and other tissues, it can be hard for doctors to access them without potentially expensive or invasive procedures.

The large vessels on the back of your retina — the light-sensitive layer of tissues at the back of your eyes — are an exception. Retinal veins and arteries are directly visible through your pupils, meaning a simple, noninvasive eye scan can reveal whether your retinal blood vessels are constricting from hypertension, clotted with cholesterol or afflicted with various other heart-health risk factors.

At present doctors look at retinal scans primarily to diagnose glaucoma and diabetes-related eye disease. Increasingly, however, researchers have been using eye scans to screen for high blood pressure and all of the cardiovascular ailments that go along with it.

In the new study, Google researchers trained their AI algorithms to look primarily at minute differences in patients' retinal blood vessels in order to estimate each patient's age, blood pressure, smoking habits and several other factors that could predict the likelihood of an impending heart attack or stroke.


AI systems rely on artificial neural networks (ANNs), which try to simulate the way the brain works in order to learn. ANNs can be trained to recognise patterns in information - including speech, text data, or visual images.


The team tested the algorithm on a set of scans from about 12,000 patients, roughly100 of who had a heart attack within five years following their retinal imaging. When shown side-by-side retinal scans from two different patients —one who went on to have a serious heart attack or stroke, and one who did not —the algorithm correctly predicted which patient was at greater risk about 70percent of the time.

According to the Google scientist team, the study results demonstrate "not only that these [heart attack risk] signals are present in the retina, but that they are also quantifiable to a degree of precision not reported before."

Future of the new AI device

The Google research team hopes to perfect this method and machine further so that it could analyze the present data more accurately without the aid or direction of humans. Lily Peng, a doctor and lead researcher on the project said that it was early and they were working with small data sets. In future large data sets could provide deeper insight.

One of the problems with this study was that it could look at eye images at 45 degree views and this could miss out vital zones in the retina. Researchers are trying to correct this problem with new versions. Although more research is necessary, the team still calls this a major step towards “non-invasive” diagnosis and predictor of cardiovascular health.

The researchers concluded: “The opportunity to one day readily understands the health of a patient’s blood vessels, key to cardiovascular health, with a simple retinal image could lower the barrier to engage in critical conversations on preventive measures to protect against a cardiovascular event.”


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