Ophthalmologist with computer science expertise

Michael Abramoff portraitBesides being a retinal specialist, Michael Abràmoff, MD, PhD, is an expert in machine learning and image analysis.

He completed a master’s degree in biomedical informatics and a doctorate in biomedical imaging—the latter during his ophthalmology residency and a fellowship in vitreoretinal surgery. Today he is a professor of biomedical engineering and electrical and computer engineering in the UI College of Engineering, in addition to his faculty position in the UI Carver College of Medicine.

For the last 20 years, Abràmoff has studied how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to detect disease in medical images—specifically how to use “smart cameras” enhanced with AI algorithms to detect signs of diabetic retinopathy. By the time he came to Iowa as a research fellow in 2003, he was driven to develop diagnostic and imaging devices for use in primary care clinics to identify patients with diabetic eye disease and get them early treatment to prevent blindness. If front-line clinics can screen for diabetic complications like nerve damage and high blood pressure, Abràmoff reasoned, why not also screen for diabetic retinopathy?

In 2010 he founded the diagnostic algorithm company IDx in Iowa to focus his efforts to increase the affordability, accessibility, and quality of health care through automation. With backing from investors and guidance from the UI Research Foundation, his team began work toward a clinical trial that could earn IDx the blessing of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to bring to market a technology—known as IDx-DR—to detect diabetic retinopathy unassisted by a physician.