Google Research

Discovering novel systemic biomarkers in photos of the external eye

  • Boris Babenko
  • Ilana Traynis
  • Christina Chen
  • Preeti Singh
  • Akib Uddin
  • Jorge Cuadros
  • Lauren P. Daskivich
  • April Y. Maa
  • Kim Ramasamy
  • Eugene Yu-Chuan Kang
  • Yossi Matias
  • Gregory S. Corrado
  • Lily Peng
  • Dale R. Webster
  • Christopher Semturs
  • Jonathan Krause
  • Avinash V. Varadarajan
  • Naama Hammel
  • Yun Liu:


External eye photos were recently shown to reveal signs of diabetic retinal disease and elevated HbA1c. In this paper, we evaluate if external eye photos contain information about additional systemic medical conditions. We developed a deep learning system (DLS) that takes external eye photos as input and predicts multiple systemic parameters, such as those related to the liver (albumin, AST); kidney (eGFR estimated using the race-free 2021 CKD-EPI creatinine equation, the urine ACR); bone & mineral (calcium); thyroid (TSH); and blood count (Hgb, WBC, platelets). Development leveraged 151,237 images from 49,015 patients with diabetes undergoing diabetic eye screening in 11 sites across Los Angeles county, CA. Evaluation focused on 9 pre-specified systemic parameters and leveraged 3 validation sets (A, B, C) spanning 28,869 patients with and without diabetes undergoing eye screening in 3 independent sites in Los Angeles County, CA, and the greater Atlanta area, GA. We compared against baseline models incorporating available clinicodemographic variables (e.g. age, sex, race/ethnicity, years with diabetes). Relative to the baseline, the DLS achieved statistically significant superior performance at detecting AST>36, calcium<8.6, eGFR<60, Hgb<11, platelets<150, ACR>=300, and WBC<4 on validation set A (a patient population similar to the development sets), where the AUC of DLS exceeded that of the baseline by 5.2-19.4%. On validation sets B and C, with substantial patient population differences compared to the development sets, the DLS outperformed the baseline for ACR>=300 and Hgb<11 by 7.3-13.2%. Our findings provide further evidence that external eye photos contain important biomarkers of systemic health spanning multiple organ systems. Further work is needed to investigate whether and how these biomarkers can be translated into clinical impact.

Research Areas

Learn more about how we do research

We maintain a portfolio of research projects, providing individuals and teams the freedom to emphasize specific types of work