Local Startup Aims to Save People’s Sight with Video Games » Dallas Innovates

A collaboration between BALANCED Media|Technology, SMU and the Retina Foundation of the Southwest seeks to learn from video games to help people see better.

The McKinney-based data processing and distributed computing company has signed an exclusive 10-year licensing agreement with the foundation to commercialize technology that aims to help teach machine learning algorithms to better diagnose and track treatment age-related macular degeneration – one of the main causes of visual impairment.

“A collaborative engine”

“You could almost call it a collaboration engine,” said Corey Clark, co-founder and CTO of BALANCED. “We bring disparate groups together and have them work together through a single platform, without them really having to understand each other’s industry.”

As part of the move, Retina Foundation of the Southwest CEO and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Karl Csaky joins BALANCED as an advisor. Csaky is also a member of the Macula Society, the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Society of Retinal Specialists.

Use the crowdsourced video game

Aided by a $2.5 million grant from the WW Caruth, Jr. Foundation, the group has been developing the new, patent-pending approach to fight macular degeneration for about six years. Using a crowd-pleasing video game titled Eye in the Sky: Defender, retinal images are transformed into a landscape where players predict the path of an invading alien force, with points awarded for selecting the correct path. In effect, users are creating new datasets, helping machine learning algorithms and clinicians know which parts of the retina to focus on when detecting or treating macular degeneration.

“If you’re going to use machine learning alone, you need hundreds of thousands of images to keep the machine iterating and iterating by force of logic,” Csaky said. “By making this game, we can bypass this process.”

Games create more engaged users

Clark, who is also an assistant professor of computer science at SMU, said using games creates more engaged users and the gaming community as a whole contains a large amount of computing and graphics processing power. Through BALANCED’s HEWMAN platform, a crowd-sourced computer network, Eye in the Sky is broadcast to gamers around the world.

“BALANCED works with partners to prove things, to get pilots executed, to get these big pharma and medical companies to use the technology,” Clark said.

The data collected from the game can be used by researchers, organizations and other companies to better diagnose age-related macular degeneration, in addition to developing new therapies and monitoring their effectiveness.

BALANCED and Complexity Gaming collaborated on COVID-19 treatment research

This isn’t the first time BALANCED has used its technology to fight disease. At the start of the pandemic, the company partnered with local esports organization Complexity Gaming to use available computing power to help outsource COVID-19 treatments. Shortly after, the 25-person company closed a $3.5 million seed round, bringing its total to around $5.5 million since its launch in 2016.

“The ultimate goal is to see the gaming community have a massive impact on the world around them,” Clark said. “Not just on the entertainment side, but to really change and for the industry to see that when you have a crowd of passionate, connected people, there’s power in that. I want to see the narrative that gaming has saved the world.

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