Meet Dr. Konstantinos Balaskas

In the ever-evolving field of medical science, Dr. Konstantinos Balaskas stands out as a trailblazer, particularly in the realm of Artificial intelligence and ophthalmology. With a specialization in retinal care, Dr. Balaskas has established himself as a prominent figure in the medical community, notably as the director of the Reading Center at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London  – a research center dedicated to leveraging imaging data to advance new vision-saving therapies’ development and accelerate their availability in real-life for the benefit of patients. Moreover, he spearheads an AI lab where the convergence of cutting-edge technology and medical expertise is shaping the future of eye care.

Megan Webber, co-founder of KnowtheGlow, was fascinated to learn how Dr. Balaskas brought medicine and technology together and to see if AI tools could one day assist in the future to help detect various leukocoria-related conditions.  One of Dr. Balaskas’s remarkable initiatives is the development of a monitoring system aimed at measuring the progression, and the response to new transformative treatments of Geographic Atrophy, an advanced, blinding form of Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), one of the three most common causes of vision loss globally. This program seeks to drastically support eye clinics in providing timely, vision-saving treatments to patients with AMD, highlighting his commitment to merging medical practice with technological advancements.

At the heart of his work is his role as a professor of medical artificial intelligence, a field that intersects his expertise in ophthalmology with groundbreaking AI applications. He is clear that this AI was, from its inception, developed with clinical use in mind. While AI is a buzzword today, Dr. Balaskas’ AI applications have been under development for many years, not created as part of the AI “hype.”  Dr. Balaskas proudly claims that the partnership between Moorfields Eye Hospital and the Institute of Ophthalmology, University College London, represents the world’s premier academic collaboration in eye care. The foundation of this partnership lies in the voluminous patient data and the sheer complexity and diversity of eye diseases encountered. The United Kingdom’s universal healthcare system, which offers free basic care, facilitates the accumulation of large data sets essential for pioneering research, with appropriate robust safeguards for data protection and broad awareness and involvement of patients and the public.

Leveraging high-quality imaging data, Dr. Balaskas’s team delves into artificial intelligence applications, primarily focusing on telemedicine, Clinical AI and remote patient monitoring. Through modern imaging modalities, they’ve developed innovative care pathways that allow disease monitoring without the necessity of direct consultation with a doctor.

Among the standout projects Dr. Balaskas has contributed to, is his AI in ROP Initiative. This venture seeks to utilize imaging technology to identify retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) needing expert review in infants, even in resource-scarce healthcare settings. The scarcity of expertise in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) necessitates the use of automated interpretation of imaging for accurate diagnoses, presenting a pivotal opportunity for Dr. Balaskas to apply his expertise. In collaboration with colleague and leading ROP expert Dr. Jill Adams, Dr. Balaskas and his team leveraged an extensive dataset of over 40,000 fully anonymised images accumulated by Dr Adams over 15 years of clinical work.  He and his researchers carefully selected specific criteria for the images.  The focal point of their work was the meticulous process of ensuring accurate labeling to train a model for precise identification. Subsequently, the testing phase aimed to validate the model’s performance in real-world scenarios and its applicability in critical contexts.  This validation encompasses both independent assessment by leading UK ROP experts, alongside benchmark assessment against a dataset from Casey Eye Institute, Oregon and Prof Pete Campbell, who is leading the pre-eminent US research team in the AI in ROP field.  Impressively, the model demonstrated excellent performance in these evaluations.  Seeing broader impact, Dr. Balaskas and his team aimed to raise awareness, particularly highlighting its potential in low-income countries.  To substantiate this claim, they extended their validation efforts to data sets from Brazil (specifically San Paolo) and Egypt, successfully showcasing the model’s adaptability across diverse image variations and factors that might influence data sets of diverse origins.

Moving beyond validation, Dr. Balaskas explained to Megan that it is imperative that in order to deploy the AI in real-life clinical care, you need to “package” it in such a way that it can be easily accessible globally across large populations and diverse healthcare systems, while protecting clinical data and preserving patient privacy.  His groundbreaking research involving detection of serious ROP cases needing expert care, has garnered recognition, yet, there are still many barriers to overcome before deployment in real-life is possible.  

Challenges related to data privacy and cross-institutional data sharing top the list of challenges yet to overcome. Dr. Balaskas highlighted the concept of “swarm learning.” This innovative technique employs blockchain technology, ensuring decentralized data processing and maintaining privacy. By adopting this method, he aims to democratize AI capabilities, even in small healthcare settings with limited resources.

Dr. Balaskas’s work resonates with a global audience due to its potential impact on healthcare systems worldwide, that transcends the conventional boundaries of Ophthalmology. The development of AI models that can predict systemic diseases from eye images holds promise for enhancing patient care beyond ophthalmology. As he pioneers the exciting frontier of Clinical AI, Dr. Balaskas remains committed to understanding the human-AI interface, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a balanced relationship between doctors and technology.

In a field marked by the confluence of medicine and technology, Dr. Konstantinos Balaskas is a visionary leader, revolutionizing ophthalmology through artificial intelligence. His relentless pursuit of innovative solutions underscores the transformative potential of merging medical expertise with cutting-edge technology. KnowtheGlow is honored to highlight the innovative technology that Dr. Balakskas and his team of doctors, scientists, and researchers are bringing to the forefront of eyecare, with the aspiration of making top-tier technology available to even the most remote populations across the globe.  We can’t wait to see what the Moorfields Reading Center and AI Lab will do next and we look forward to watching the impact of the programs Dr. Balaskas and his team have begun!