Fast Facts on Precision Medicine: Research on Eye Disease


Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of central vision loss in people over 50. Pinpointing the exact timeframe when a person’s age-related macular degeneration (AMD) progresses from the slow-developing dry form to the more aggressive wet form is tricky. But it’s essential to preserving vision.

“The majority of vision loss in AMD is due to the wet form,” explains T.Y. Alvin Liu, M.D., director of the Wilmer Precision Ophthalmology Center of Excellence. “We know that timely initiation of treatment for wet AMD translates into better final vision, but for a variety of reasons, sometimes people’s care is delayed. Being able to identify patients at a high risk of imminent conversion will be helpful.”

Typically, patients are seen every six to 12 months by ophthalmologists who specialize in the retina, the light-sensing back of the eye (where the macula, which is responsible for central sharp vision, is located). During these visits, patients undergo an imaging test called optical coherence tomography (OCT), which uses light waves to compose a cross-section showing each layer of the retina. From these images and an exam, the doctor tries to predict how quickly the patient’s disease will progress.

Precision Medicine at Work

In an ongoing precision medicine project, Liu and colleagues used OCT images from 4,000 patients to create an artificial intelligence computer program that can look at a patient’s OCT image, combine that with other information such as age and gender, and predict the likelihood of that patient’s disease progressing to the wet form of AMD within the next six months. If the patient is found to be at high risk, ophthalmologists could bring them in more frequently or prescribe an at-home monitoring device so the moment they convert, they can come to the clinic for treatment.

Investigators have completed their analysis of the tool and filed a patent. They hope to bring this to the clinic for use within a year.