Local Startup Aims to Save Peoples’ Sight with Video Games

McKinney-based BALANCED Media|Technology, SMU, and the Retina Foundation of the Southwest are collaborating to commercialize technology to fight age-related macular degeneration.

Using a crowdsourced video game, players help the team create new data sets out of captured retinal images, helping to lead to potential breakthroughs in detection and treatment.

A collaboration between BALANCED Media|Technology, SMU, and the Retina Foundation of the Southwest is looking to drive insights from video games to help give people more sight.

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

‘A collaboration engine’

“You could almost call it a collaboration engine,” said Corey Clark, BALANCED co-founder and CTO. “We are bringing groups disparate groups and having them work together through a singular platform, without them truly having to understand the other’s industry.”

As part of the move, Retina Foundation of the Southwest CEO and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Karl Csaky is joining 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.

Using crowdsourced video game play

Aided by a $2.5 million grant from the W.W. Caruth, Jr. Foundation, the group has been developing the new patent-pending approach to fighting macular degeneration for about six years. Using a crowdsourced 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 being awarded for selecting the right path. In reality, users are creating new data sets, helping machine learning algorithms and clinicians know which parts of the retina to focus on when detecting or treating macular degeneration.

“If you have to use machine learning alone, you need hundreds of thousands of images for the machine to keep iterating and iterating by force of logic,” Csaky said. “By doing this gaming, we can short circuit that process.”

Games create more engaged users

Clark, who also serves as an assistant professor of computer science at SMU, said using games creates more engaged users and that the gaming community as a whole contains a large amount of computational and graphic processing power. Via BALANCED’s HEWMAN platform, a crowdsourced computing network, Eye in the Sky is streamed to gamers around the world.

“BALANCED is working with partners to prove things out, to get pilots done to, to bring in these larger pharmaceutical and medical groups to utilize the technology,” Clark said.

The data gathered 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 tracking their effectiveness.

BALANCED and Complexity Gaming collaborated on COVID-19 treatment search

This isn’t the first time BALANCED has used its technology to help fight diseases. Early on in the pandemic, the company teamed up with local esports organization Complexity Gaming to use spare computer processing power to help crowdsource treatments for COVID-19. Shortly after, the 25-person company closed on a $3.5 million seed round, bringing its total to around $5.5 million since launching in 2016.

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

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