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  • INSIGHT communications team

World-first AI foundation model for eye health wins prize for best research

Lead developer of the world’s first artificial intelligence (AI) foundation model in ophthalmology, Yukun Zhou, has been awarded the 2023 Robert Speller Prize for Best Paper by a PhD Student by the Department of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering (MBPE) at University College London (UCL).


The paper, published in Nature in September 2023, describes RETFound, an AI model for disease detection using retinal images. It is one of the first AI foundation models in healthcare, and the only one in ophthalmology to date.


The code for the model and supporting guidance have been made freely available on GitHub for other researchers to employ in worldwide efforts to eradicate preventable blindness and other conditions.


Development of RETFound was led by Yukun in collaboration with Pearse Keane’s medical AI research team at UCL’s Institute of Ophthalmology (IoO) and across Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, with data infrastructure and AI tooling provided by INSIGHT.


The judging panel determined that Yukun’s paper “stood out based on the importance, depth and rigour of the presented research.”


Below: Award recipient Yukun Zhou (left) with supervising professor Daniel Alexander

On receiving the award Yukun said: "I am deeply honoured and motivated to receive the Robert Speller prize, acknowledging my four years of training at UCL’s Centre for Medical Image Computing (CMIC) and Department of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering, and Moorfields Eye Hospital."


Supervising professor, Daniel Alexander, said: “I am so proud of Yukun, who is such a deserving candidate of this award. The paper and award is the pinnacle of his many achievements during PhD studies between UCL’s CMIC and IoO. I am very sure there are more great things to come from him.”


Professor of Artificial Medical Intelligence at UCL IoO, Pearse Keane, said: “Yukun is a rising star in the field of AI for ophthalmology. We’re really proud about what he and the team have already achieved with the creation of RETFound. However, the most exciting thing about Yukun’s work is that the best is yet to come!”


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