Recently, Professor Xiaoxin Li, President of the Xiamen Eye Centre at Xiamen University, China, visited Liverpool. She was accompanied by two senior colleagues, Dr Minghan Li and Dr Songjian Gong, who are both consultant ophthalmologists. Professor Li leads a research team who are currently undertaking a £1.15m international research project to develop a new diagnostic imaging solution to tackling diabetic eye disease in China. Professor Li and her team are working with scientists in Liverpool to develop a new low-cost camera designed specifically for the needs of China and other developing countries.
Professor Li was invited to Liverpool by the principal investigator of the project, Dr Yalin Zheng, reader in ophthalmic imaging at the University of Liverpool. The project is jointly funded by The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has committed the funding for the project through the Global Challenges Research Fund.
During her visit, Professor Li and her colleagues were welcomed by the Liverpool research team from The University of Liverpool along with colleagues at St Paul’s Eye Unit and Liverpool John Moores University. She gave a presentation on the current practice and guidelines in China around how diabetes is managed for diabetic retinopathy. In addition to technical meetings and discussions, she visited Professor Yaochun Shen’s lab at the electrical engineering and electronics department to see the prototype camera under development. Professor Li also visited St Paul’s Eye Unit and Liverpool Eye Screening Programme, accompanied by Dr Ticiana Criddle, Director of the Liverpool Eye Screening Programme. She was given a tour of the unit and was introduced to various teams, such as the team responsible for analysing images of patients’ retinas.
This visit was a very important milestone of the project. It has helped to further strengthen the Liverpool - China partnership, establish the technical standard that will be required by China. It will also plan and prepare us for the impact and engagement activities that will raise awareness and promote the research profile in China. This will undoubtedly help us to deliver what China needs
This meeting was very important as it has helped the UK team understand the practice in China and the real needs of the local population. This will help us decide what is required for large scale implementation of this new technology in China.
Diabetic retinopathy is one of the most common causes of visual loss and can be prevented if it is detected early. Someone with diabetic retinopathy will not be aware of the problem until their vision declines, a stage when the damage is often irreversible. At the moment people with diabetes in China and other rapidly developing countries around the world frequently present with very advanced stages of the disease. The University of Liverpool, in partnership with St Paul’s Eye Unit and the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust has been leading research into eye screening for the disease since 1991. They have developed an innovative whole systems approach for the detection of diabetic retinopathy which will be scalable and cost effective to cope with the rapidly increasing and high numbers. This approach combines machine and human intelligence with low cost, diagnostic technologies so that large scale early detection of sight threatening disease can be performed by non-expert health care workers at the time and place of patient care. This research will ensure that diabetic retinopathy is caught much earlier for so many more people, potentially saving the eyesight of millions.