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Eye Care Organizations Unite to Save Sight of Premature Infants Using Artificial Intelligence

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The partnership will roll out a proprietary system that has earned FDA breakthrough designation, one of the few ophthalmic devices to achieve this status in almost a decade

NEW YORK, Sept. 21, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Eye care nonprofit Orbis International is excited to announce a new strategic partnership with Siloam Vision to use the company’s cloud-based telemedicine platform to expand access to eye care and prevent blindness in premature infants living in hard-to-reach communities. Siloam Vision’s artificial intelligence (AI) platform helps diagnose retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) – the leading cause of childhood blindness globally.


Orbis-trained Dr. Battsetseg Baljinnyam examines a baby born two months prematurely who was diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) at the Mother and Child Hospital in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Photo: Geoff Oliver Bugbee


Orbis and Siloam Vision have aligned missions to make sure no child starts out life blind from an avoidable cause.

The platform was developed by the i-ROP consortium, originally started in 2011 and led by Dr. Michael F. Chiang (now the Director of the National Eye Institute) when he was at Oregon Health & Science University. The i-ROP consortium is now led by Dr. J. Peter Campbell and Dr. R.V. Paul Chan, co-founders of Siloam Vision, and Orbis Volunteer Faculty members (medical experts). Orbis and Siloam Vision have aligned missions to make sure no child starts out life blind from an avoidable cause. With current methods, a pediatric ophthalmologist must carefully monitor and examine at-risk babies during the weeks after birth and before hospital discharge, but the new partnership will enable AI to fill in the gaps where there is a lack of trained pediatric ophthalmologists.

“There are many efforts focused on training ROP specialists around the world, but it will take decades before there will be enough coverage,” says Dr. R.V. Paul Chan. “Telemedicine using digital images is an effective force multiplier, enabling clinicians to reach more patients than ever before. We are excited to partner with Orbis to help save the sight of more preterm babies in hard-to-reach-communities.”  

“We started Siloam Vision to improve the care of preterm babies around the world, but we can’t declare success until it gets where it is most needed,” says Dr. J. Peter Campbell. “We are incredibly excited to partner with Orbis to help bring AI and telemedicine to the care of babies at risk of ROP everywhere that it may be beneficial. ROP blindness is almost always preventable. Our shared goal is to partner to make that a reality.”

Siloam Vision’s system, known as i-ROP DL, combines an AI algorithm with a cloud-based telemedicine platform and vision camera. The system effectively identifies severe ROP in digital images taken on commercially available cameras and can aid doctors in diagnosing– and thus reduce the risk of blindness from – the disease. The algorithm went through a decade of rigorous validation studies in India, Mongolia and Nepal and now has the potential to scale to every neonatal care unit in the world. Siloam Vision’s proprietary i-ROP DL system has received breakthrough designation by the FDA, a program aimed at accelerating development and approval of medical devices based on compelling clinical benefit and lack of existing competing technology. Siloam Vision was recently awarded $1.95M from the National Institute of Health to perform the necessary clinical studies to obtain FDA approval of the technology. The studies will be co-led by Dr. Campbell and Karyn Jonas, Siloam Vision’s Chief Clinical Officer, a former neonatal nurse, and Orbis Volunteer Faculty member.

“We are thrilled to partner with Siloam Vision to get this technology to the people who need it most,” says Derek Hodkey, President and CEO of Orbis International. “Orbis has a deep history in telemedicine, and we are proud to bring our expertise in this area to the diagnosis and prevention of ROP. We look forward to rolling out the technology with our partners that have active ROP programs and expanding to others in the future.”

All babies born prematurely are at risk of developing ROP, a condition that damages the retina and can lead to irreversible blindness. ROP is entirely preventable; however, a severe lack of trained professionals, equipment, and awareness about the disease in low- to middle-income countries means an estimated 32,000 pre-term babies become permanently blind or visually impaired from ROP every year. Early detection is key to treating ROP and saving a baby’s sight.

The landscape of ROP has drastically changed in the last half century. As a condition that largely occurs in neonatal units due to overexposure to oxygen, the condition was often isolated to high-resource areas with neonatal units. As neonatal care improves in low- to middle-income countries, premature babies are surviving at greater rates, but are now at high risk of blindness because of limited ophthalmology resources to provide ROP screening.

The partnership with Siloam Vision builds on Orbis’s work in the AI and eye care field. Cybersight AI, an AI tool on Orbis’s telemedicine and e-learning platform, is actively used in Orbis programs in low-resource areas to identify abnormalities often associated with common eye diseases in mere seconds. Orbis is also invested in AI research and has published numerous studies on the effectiveness of AI to detect eye diseases in low- to middle-income countries. Many experts consider AI to be the next frontier in ophthalmology for its potential to revolutionize eye screenings, diagnostics, and treatment. Orbis is working to ensure eye care professionals everywhere can access these tools for free.

About Orbis International

Orbis is a leading global non-governmental organization that has been a pioneer in the prevention and treatment of avoidable blindness for over four decades. Orbis transforms lives by delivering the skills, resources and knowledge needed to deliver accessible quality eye care. Working in collaboration with local partners, including hospitals, universities, government agencies and ministries of health, Orbis provides hands-on ophthalmology training, strengthens healthcare infrastructure and advocates for the prioritization of eye health on public health agendas. Orbis operates the world’s only Flying Eye Hospital, a fully accredited ophthalmic teaching hospital on board an MD-10 aircraft, and an award-winning telemedicine platform, Cybersight. For the past ten consecutive years, Orbis has achieved Charity Navigator’s coveted four-star rating for demonstrating strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency, placing Orbis in the top 3% of U.S. charities. For the past three years, Orbis has earned GuideStar‘s platinum Seal of Transparency. In 2022, Orbis earned “accredited charity” status from the Better Business Bureau by meeting all 20 of their standards for charity accountability. To learn more, please visit orbis.org.

About Siloam Vison

Siloam Vision is a company founded to bring to market imaging technologies with potential to reduce preventable blindness around the world. Siloam Vision combines a team with expertise in artificial intelligence, ophthalmic optical design, and global health with a focus on developing integrated solutions to address solvable problems in eye care worldwide, starting with retinopathy of prematurity. To learn more, please visit www.siloamvision.com

MEDIA CONTACT

Jenna Montgomery

Manager, Global Communications and Marketing

[email protected]

Siloam Vision

Karyn Jonas

[email protected]

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SOURCE Orbis International

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