- London researchers used AI to identify the signs from thousands of scans
- They found that thinning of two layers of the eye was linked to an increased risk
- Estimates suggest that around 145,000 Britons are living with a Parkinson’s diagnosis.
Research suggests that an eye scan could detect signs of Parkinson’s up to seven years before diagnosis.
High-resolution imaging of the retina is now a routine part of eye care, particularly a type of 3D scan known as ‘optical coherence tomography’ (OCT) that is widely used by 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 a thousandth of a millimeter.
Now, experts believe that this scanner could detect ‘markers’ that indicate Parkinson’s years before symptoms appear.
Researchers from University College London, together with Moorfields Eye Hospital, used artificial intelligence to identify signs of Parkinson’s from thousands of eye scans.
High-resolution imaging of the retina is now a routine part of eye care, particularly a type of 3D scan known as ‘optical coherence tomography’ (OCT) that is widely used by street opticians. Researchers from University College London, together 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 only appear when about 80 percent of nerve cells have been lost.
They found that a thinning of two layers of the eye, the inner nuclear layer and the inner plexiform layer of ganglion cells, 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 revealed signs of other conditions, including Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia, in a field of research called “oculomics.”
Lead author Dr. Siegfried Wagner said: “I continue to be amazed by what we can discover through eye scans.”
“Although we are not yet ready to predict whether a person will develop Parkinson’s disease, we hope that this method could soon become a screening tool for people at risk of the disease.
“Finding signs of a number of diseases before symptoms appear means that, in the future, people may have time to make lifestyle changes to prevent some conditions from arising, and doctors may delay the onset and life-changing impact of neurodegenerative disorders”.
Commenting on the study, Professor Alistair Denniston, Consultant Ophthalmologist at Birmingham University Hospitals, said: “This work demonstrates the potential of eye data, harnessed by technology to detect signs and changes too subtle for humans to see. “.
“We can now detect very early signs of Parkinson’s disease, opening up new treatment possibilities.”
Estimates suggest that around 145,000 people are living with a Parkinson’s diagnosis in the UK.
It is caused by a reduction in a chemical called dopamine in the brain, which plays a vital role in regulating movement in the body.
The disease is characterized by symptoms such as involuntary tremors of certain parts of the body, slow movements, and stiff, inflexible muscles.
The findings were presented in the journal Neurology.
The team said more research is needed to determine whether retinal imaging could support the diagnosis, prognosis, and complex management of patients affected by Parkinson’s disease.
WHAT IS PARKINSON?
Parkinson’s disease affects one in 500 people, including about a million Americans.
It causes muscle stiffness, slow movement, tremors, sleep disturbances, chronic fatigue, impaired quality of life, and can lead to severe disability.
It is a progressive neurological condition 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 produce it have died.
There is currently no cure or way to stop the progression of the disease, but hundreds of scientific trials are underway to try to change that.
The disease claimed the life of boxing legend Muhammad Ali in 2016.