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New Zealand startup Toku Eyes, which has built an artificial intelligence platform to improve early detection of eye diseases such as macular degeneration, glaucoma and other diseases observable via the eye, has raised NZ$3.6 million (A$3.35m) in a seed round to commercialise its invention.

The company’s first external raise came from US, Asian and New Zealand ophthalmology and optometry industry experts and was led by Icehouse Ventures, joined by New Zealand VC Artemis Capital and Kera Link International, a social venture focused on delivering affordable corneal blindness treatment in the developing world.

Toku Eyes co-founder and CEO Associate Professor Ehsan Vaghefi’s eye imaging diagnostic device, THEIA, has the potential to expand existing screening capacity by around 50% and reduce labour costs by 30%.

Clinical trials completed last month at Middlemore Eye Hospital and private practices across New Zealand demonstrated the accuracy of the THEIA algorithm.

Toku Eyes Founder: Associate Professor Ehsan Vaghefi

Camera-agnostic, THEIA is designed to handle lower quality images, work with any number of images per eye, and automatically identifies images that belong to the same eye and the same patient. Using a medical practice’s existing camera, operated by a technician or allied health professional after simple training, THEIA saves the vast majority of time specialists currently spend scanning and writing reports for every patient, when just an estimated 5-10% actually need a referral.

Toku Eyes is also working with camera manufacturers to develop a cost effective, highly portable camera that can be operated by healthcare professionals.

Associate Professor Ehsan Vaghefi said early diagnosis and accurate prediction are key to the prevention of blindness.

“Toku Eyes’ AI means many more people can be cost-effectively screened, including those in more remote areas under-served by optometry or ophthalmology services,” he said.

“Just as importantly as increasing the volume of screening, improving the accuracy and granularity of disease detection using THEIA allows patients who do not require a referral to be prompted to make positive lifestyle changes.

The raise will be used to advance the commercialisation of THEIA and complete the validation of its diagnosis programs for health issues such as cataracts, macular degeneration, hypertension and even blood sugar leading to diabetes, via partnerships with US-based clinics.

Two New Zealand District Health Boards are already trialling THEIA, which is expected to be available to Australian optometrists and healthcare professionals later this year, following regulatory certifications.

Toku Eyes has received around NZ$4 million in grants to develop THEIA from the likes of New Zealand’s Health Research Council, MBIE, National Science Challenge and Callaghan Innovation.

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