NOE-VR: Advanced technology for eye care

Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence are actively employed in advanced technologies and in medicine in particular. Andrei Demchinsky, CEO of NOE startup, spoke to Invest Foresight about world’s first ophthalmological training VR simulator employing AI.

NOE has designed a unique medical simulator which employs AI algorithms to act as a personal advisor overseeing a training process and ensuring a proper feedback. Such a mentor is to offer a personalized training program so that a medical student or a doctor could accomplish the set targets in a most effective manner.

NOE-VR simulator creates, in a virtual reality, an anatomically identical digital copy of an ocular globe where any eye disorders of any degrees may be incorporated, for students to practice detecting and treating them, while an AI mentor is checking the progress and gives advice on further steps.

Ophthalmology is the priority area for using the simulator. The project was launched by three individuals of whom two are eye specialists. Currently, every student and every doctor faces a problem of lacking a high quality education. Students accumulate a great deal of academic knowledge, can perfectly well keep health records and make notes of valuable lectures, yet few of them are properly prepared to deal with real patients, since they are short of real practice. Having reviewed the market, competitors and current trends in education, we have developed a clear concept and gathered the team we needed. Last March, the project was launched.

We do have a one single competitor, a European company, but it only offers a VR simulator with minor analytics such as movements tracking and preciseness monitoring, and an acceptable imaging. That is its maximum capacity available. Yet nowadays, technologies allow a much higher degree of exposure.

We have got a prototype ready, a minimum viable product, i.e. a device, collaborative tools, interface, graphics.

The simulator will be in demand by clinics and doctors since it offers good practice. The problem is, if a doctor attends a special or advanced course in some institution to become an expert in a given field, regretfully, there is no guaranty of availability of patients with a particular problem at a particular time frame. This is a problem for absolutely every medical institution and every specialist. Therefore attending such a course is often a formality.

NOE-VR is capable of simulating any pathology and allows practicing in curing it as long as required, until AI says the skill is adequate.

Though an eye is very small, ophthalmology has to deal with over a thousand disorders, which is an astronomical number. A specialist is to be able to resolve all these numerous problems, as a patient who can not be treated by one doctor will go and find another one who can cure him. Besides, there are some poorly qualified doctors who try to help but fail which is bad for the patient, the doctor, and the clinic. By employing our simulator, all such problems may potentially be resolved.

Ophthalmology is one of the few fields in medicine which is fast in absorbing high technologies, since a human eye is so small and so sensitive. Plenty of hi-tech tools become available these days and are readily accepted in ophthalmology.

We have a huge pool of tools and hence are able to visualize eye elements and have them digitalized via thousands of points, to be then translated into the VR simulant. There is nothing in ophthalmology at the moment that we can not translate into a digital format. A doctor therefore has a chance to go through various scenarios prior to a surgery, to have a sort of a trial-run to thus improve the chances of a successful outcome. Similar simulation systems for heart surgeries are available outside Russia, but none for eye surgeries.

There are various NOE technology implementation scenarios. The optimistic one is by means of the education system in general when government pays for the lifelong licenses of medical students or doctors which certify some basic knowledge meeting the national education standards (including analytics, forecasts, etc.). A holder of such a license can improve his knowledge further by paying for and attending additional courses.

The other proliferation scenario is through private schools where students pay their own money to get licenses, or get funding from private foundations, organizations, etc.

The project was presented at the strategic initiatives forum where it was shortlisted right away, evidencing the importance of such technologies was clearly understood. We therefore do have a foundation or a basis to further develop the technology with assistance from the government which requires educational institutions to ensure their students can have simulation classes since 2021. Yet nothing like that is currently available in national schools training eye specialists.

In our system, we employ several trackers and intend to employ an eye tracker system. That is the way to monitor what exactly a student is looking at when explained a specific pathology. That system will need to get an accreditation, but such institutions as Pirogov Russian National Research Medical University, Moscow International Medical Cluster at Moscow Skolkovo Innovation Center, universities of Utah and Oslo are ready to start testing it. We have invitations from Canada’s MaRS startup accelerator and from Belgium to further improve our technology there.

It is expected the technology will be fully implemented within two years, or within a year in case there is adequate funding available. Initially, funds were planned to be raised from private investors and such an option has not been abandoned, yet we now file applications with various government agencies too.

The entire virtual simulation will be aggregated in a virtual university, NOE UNI. This hub will appear at the second stage, after the minimum viable product stage is complete. The university, as a marketplace, will house programs of diverse schools from all over the world, and it will be an instrument for implementing training courses of other universities.

Besides, we plan to launch a medical module which will allow users who speak no English to nevertheless communicate in this language.

It will be a unique instrument. A pattern will be designed on the basis of ophthalmology to develop a kit. The pattern will then be translated onto other fields of medicine, such as cardiology, gastroenterology, dentistry and so on. It will therefore be an instrument for a medical institution to design its own course. Such courses will be numerous, as they will employ our instruments just like people now use Photoshop.

The present pandemic environment offered us an opportunity to release the potential of the technology for distance learning, so that doctors could examine patients with COVID-19 symptoms and collect the data they need, and it is a good starting point for efforts and resources mobilization.

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