How a trip to the optician could detect signs of Parkinson’s up to SEVEN years earlier
- Researchers from London used AI to identify the characters from thousands of scans
- They found that a thinning of two layers of the eye was linked to an increased risk
- Estimates suggest that around 145,000 Britons are living with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s
Research suggests that a high street eye scan can detect signs of Parkinson’s up to seven years before a diagnosis is made.
High-resolution images of the retina are now a routine part of eye care – in particular, a type of 3D scan known as “optical coherence tomography” (OCT), widely used by high street opticians.
In less than a minute, an OCT scan produces a cross-section of the retina – the back of the eye – in incredible detail, down to one-thousandth of a millimeter.
Experts now believe this scan can detect ‘markers’ suggestive of Parkinson’s disease years before symptoms appear.
Researchers at University College London, along with Moorfields Eye Hospital, used artificial intelligence to identify signs of Parkinson’s from thousands of eye scans.
High-resolution images of the retina are now a routine part of eye care – in particular, a type of 3D scan known as “optical coherence tomography” (OCT), widely used by high street opticians. Researchers at University College London, along with Moorfields Eye Hospital, used artificial intelligence to identify signs of Parkinson’s from thousands of eye scans
Symptoms can include uncontrollable tremors, slow movements and muscle stiffness, but experts say they often don’t appear until about 80 percent of the nerve cells are lost.
They found that thinning of two layers of the eye — the inner nuclear layer and the ganglion cell inner plexiform layer — was linked to an increased risk of developing the disease.
Doctors have long known that the eye can act as a “window” to the rest of the body, providing direct insight into many aspects of our health.
Using data from eye scans has previously revealed signs of other conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia, in a field of research called “oculomics.”
Lead author Dr Siegfried Wagner said: ‘I am still amazed at what we can discover through eye scans.
‘While we are not yet ready to predict whether a person will develop Parkinson’s, we hope that this method can soon become a pre-screening tool for people at risk for disease.
‘Finding signs of some diseases before symptoms emerge means that in the future people could have time to make lifestyle changes to prevent certain conditions, and clinicians could delay the onset and impact of life-altering neurodegenerative disorders .’
Commenting on the study, Professor Alistair Denniston, consultant ophthalmologist at University Hospitals Birmingham, said: ‘This work demonstrates the potential for eye data, harnessed by the technology to pick up signs and changes that are too subtle for humans to see.
‘We can now detect very early signs of Parkinson’s, which opens up new treatment options.’
Estimates suggest that around 145,000 people are living with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s in the UK.
It is caused by a reduction in a chemical called dopamine in the brain, which plays a vital role in regulating the body’s movement.
The disease is characterized by symptoms such as involuntary shaking of certain parts of the body, slow movements, and stiff and inflexible muscles.
The findings were presented in the journal Neurology.
The team said further research is needed to determine whether retinal imaging can support the diagnosis, prognosis and complex treatment of patients with Parkinson’s.
WHAT IS PARKINSON?
Parkinson’s disease affects one in 500 people, including about one million Americans.
It causes muscle stiffness, slowness of movement, tremors, sleep disturbances, chronic fatigue, decreased quality of life and can lead to severe disability.
It is a progressive neurological disorder that destroys cells in the part of the brain that controls movement.
Patients are known to have a reduced supply of dopamine because the nerve cells that provide it have died.
There is currently no cure and no way to stop the progression of the disease, but hundreds of scientific studies are underway to change that.
The disease claimed the life of boxing legend Muhammad Ali in 2016.