Public Release: 

Telemedicine application fights diabetic blindness epidemic

University of Alberta

The University of Alberta's Department of Ophthalmology is using a new telehealth technology to fight a diabetic blindness epidemic affecting native communities.

A wireless technology called I-SITE (Intelligent Screening of Imagery via Telephthamology) has proven successful in a remote, aboriginal community where access to specialists is almost impossible.

I-SITE, which recently passed its first clinical trials and in the process saved eyesight, uses satellites and advanced digital imaging technology originally developed to explore images of earth from space. The images are then sent to the University of Alberta where they are analyzed.

Recently in Fort Vermilion, Ab (700 kms north of Edmonton), 71 diabetic people from surrounding communities were invited to have their eyes screened for diabetic retinopathy using I-SITE. Thirteen of those people were diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy and seven were found to be in immediate need of laser surgery. Without early detection, the patients needing laser surgery would have gone blind.

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the normal blood vessels of the retina are damaged because of high blood glucose (sugar) levels. It is the leading cause of adult blindness in North America. In First Nation Canadian communities, diabetes is three to five times more prevalent and is now growing to epidemic levels.


I-SITE is funded by the University of Alberta,, MacDonald Dettwiler the Canadian Space Agency and PRECARN ASSOCIATES Inc.

The UofA in Edmonton, Alberta is one of Canada's premier teaching and research universities serving more than 30,000 students with 6,000 faculty and staff. It continues to lead the country with the most 3M Teaching Fellows, Canada's only national award recognizing teaching excellence, and Academic All-Canadians.

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