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An Auckland-based company hopes to launch a new AI-augmented eye examination tool by the end of 2021 to improve the speed and accuracy of detecting a range of diseases from diabetes to macular degeneration.

Dr Ehsan Vaghefi is the co-founder and science lead of Toku Eyes which is developing THEIA, a novel ophthalmic imaging device for delivering faster, more affordable and individualised eye-care.

“THEIA is a unique set of AI engines, each specialised in using a different imaging modality for diagnostics, prognostics or health assessment. It integrates with any existing patient health record management system, and will work on any device, in any clinic and for any clinician,” says Dr Vaghefi.

The interdisciplinary team behind THEIA includes endocrinologists, ophthalmologists, optometrists, AI specialists and regulatory experts linked to the University of Auckland and private and public health care providers.

Toku Eyes is trialling THEIA in New Zealand, Malaysia and India while working through the FDA regulatory process. It has received funding from the Consortium of Medical Technologies (CMDT), University of Auckland Inventors’ Fund and the Health Research Council. A capital-raising is planned for mid-year to support future development and marketing with a focus on the US.

“The US is the biggest market in the world, and we want to partner with optometry chains there, so we’re working on transitioning the company to the US to maximise that opportunity.”

Dr Vaghefi says diabetes is a good example of where THEIA will deliver improvements. “Diabetes often shows in the eyes through annual checks, but these manual checks are time-consuming for both patients and healthcare professionals. THEIA will be more efficient, more accurate and deliver the same quality results.

“Using THEIA, GPs and optometrists will be able to conduct these eye checks in just 10 seconds, leaving clinicians to focus on patients needing more than a diagnostic test and removing up to two hours a day of report writing. And that’s just the start.”

THEIA will help diagnoses most causes of vision loss, create personalised prognostic reports, and eliminate preventable health and vision deterioration. Availability through a range of outlets will remove another barrier to healthcare.

Dr Vaghefi credits the MedTech Centre of Research Excellence, saying the development of THEIA wouldn’t have been possible without their very early funding and expertise. “Those considering taking a similar path – forming a company and accessing a market – can access that same expertise.”


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