"The eyes are windows to our future"

Last month Professor Sir Peng Tee Khaw, Director of the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, gave the Royal College of Ophthalmologists’ (RCOphth) inaugural public lecture to a full house at the Wellcome Collection, Euston.

RCOphth President Mike Burdon opened the event to provide an insight into the work of the college over its 30-year history, emphasising the importance of educating the public in vision and eye health.

Professor Khaw began his lively and engaging talk by sharing the results of a global survey showing how people value their sight above all other senses. Moving short interviews with people who were losing or had already lost their sight highlighted the benefits of vision and eye health at the individual level. Our attention was also drawn to the problem of an ageing population and eye health. Professor Khaw made a clear case for making vision and eye health a national priority to prevent an epidemic of age-related eye diseases in the near future.

The audience were then provided with some of the recent developments in eye health and vision science. Professor Khaw highlighted the importance of the UK Biobank (a database providing the health and well-being information of 500,000 volunteers to approved researchers) for advancing research, showing us how it becomes much easier to spot patterns and links in health data with information from more individuals.

The lecture then focused on recent developments in artificial intelligence (AI) and how the eyes can provide a unique window to the human body. Professor Khaw explained just how much AI can do with an eye scan, including calculating a person’s age within 3 years, predicting their historical and future blood pressure, and detecting eye disease with 96% accuracy. In the long term, the hope is that this will help doctors prioritise patients who need treatment, ultimately saving many people’s sight.

Professor Khaw touched on a number of other issues, including a fantastic analogy with an elephant bouncing on a trampoline, which illustrated the processes of glaucoma, the number one course of irreversible blindness.