Forbes | November 27, 2022

The retina is the only organ where blood vessels are directly seen without any invasive measures. GETTY

A South Korean startup, Mediwhale, wants to use artificial intelligence (AI) to diagnose kidney disease through a non-invasive retina scan.

Kevin T. Choi, Co-founder and CEO of Mediwhale says the retina is the only organ where blood vessels are directly seen without invasive measures. “Many diseases are related to blood vessel damage, so by directly examining the blood vessels with validation from a large data set using AI, we can detect the early signs of blood vessel damage-related diseases.”

A retina scan is performed to examine only eye diseases, but Choi says Mediwhale is using AI in the retina scan to detect non-eye diseases. “The advantage of AI is automated image analysis and calculation of the risk score [..] and the ability to detect subtle changes that doctors cannot observe, but the AI can still calculate into reproducible risk score from retinal photographs,” said Choi. 

“We hope to detect the future risks of blood vessel-related diseases starting from cardiovascular and kidney diseases,” adds Choi. 

The Mediwhale solution uses a fundus camera to capture images of the eye, and then the AI algorithm provides the disease risk assessment. 

“A general practitioner can perform the retina image capture, and if high disease risk is detected, the patient can be referred to a specialist for additional testing,” said Choi. “Our device can analyze the retina blood vessels and stratify the future disease risks so that the high and intermediate-risk groups can prevent diseases by taking early action even when they currently do not have any symptoms.”

Choi says that he hopes that down the road, patients will be able to quickly check their cardiovascular and kidney disease risks without radiation risk or blood tests. “This is especially meaningful to those with metabolic diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure.”

Mediwhale is part of the 2022 cohort of HeartX, a cardiovascular-focused healthcare accelerator in Arkansas. The Mediwhale device is not approved by the Federal Drug Administration as of November 2022.