Investigating retinal vasculopathy pre-COVID-19 as an independent risk factor predictive of COVID-19 outcomes.
The aim of the research is understanding why diabetic patients are at a greater risk of suffering the most severe complications of COVID-19 than the general population and developing cost-effective approaches to estimating risk on a patient-specific basis. This understanding will benefit all diabetic patients at risk of immunity dysfunction, but in particular those of older age and with co-morbidities, such as hypertension or cardiovascular disease, since they suffer the worst COVID-19 outcomes.
We propose a highly innovative, interdisciplinary approach comprising clinical academics working in critical care, clinical ophthalmology and pathology, and experts in medical imaging and data science to address an urgent unmet clinical need. We will investigate whether diabetic patients previously diagnosed with retinal microvasculopathy in the eye are also the ones suffering the worst COVID-19 outcomes. This will allow us to propose new ways of predicting COVID-19 risk based on simple and non-invasive imaging of the eye. This will assist doctors in identifying the patients at greatest risk of complications at the time of diagnosis and plan their treatment pathways accordingly. To achieve this, we will capitalise on over a decade of our work in using retinal microvascular analysis in patients with brain, cardiovascular and renal diseases, exploiting computer image and risk estimation based on Artificial Intelligence methods. If the results support our hypothesis, we will be within one year in position to design a prospective study to validate these findings and advance in the path towards clinical adoption.