Brain and Body

New Eye Test by UCL Scientists Could Detect Parkinson's Before Symptoms Appear

August 24, 2016 | Johannes Van Zijl

Human eye
Photo credit: Jonathan Lidbeck/flickr (CC BY 2.0)

It’s low-cost and non-invasive!

Scientists from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology department have discovered a novel method that can detect changes in the retina of the eyes of individuals suffering from Parkinson’s disease, impressively, before any changes occur in the brain.

By using normal ophthalmic instruments routinely used by optometrists, the group of scientists was able to devise a new imaging technique, allowing them to observe these retinal changes very early in the onset of disease, according to the research they conducted on rats.

“This is potentially a revolutionary breakthrough in the early diagnosis and treatment of one of the world’s most debilitating diseases,” said lead researcher, Professor Francesca Cordeiro in a media release.

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After detecting these early retinal changes in rat models, the scientist treated the animals with a new version of the anti-diabetic drug Rosiglitazone that helps to protect nerve cells. The team claims that, after the treatment, they had clear evidence of reduced cell death in the retina, and they also observed a protective effect on the brain and other nerve cells. They suggest that the drug might be used in the future as a therapeutic treatment for Parkinson’s.

“These tests mean we might be able to intervene much earlier and more effectively treat people with this devastating condition.”

Parkinson’s is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s, and affects roughly six million people around the world. It leads to difficulties in using motor skills, leaving sufferers with uncontrollable shaking and motor movements, making it hard to even pick up a spoon full of food, thereby reducing their quality of life drastically.

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“These discoveries have the potential to limit and perhaps eliminate the suffering of thousands of patients if we are able to diagnose early and to treat with this new formulation,” said Dr Eduardo Normando, Consultant Ophthalmologist at Western Eye Hospital and UCL.

“The evidence we have strongly suggests that we might be able to intervene much earlier and more effectively in treating people with this devastating condition, using this non-invasive and affordable imaging technique”, Dr Normando concluded.

The findings were published in Acta Neuropathologica Communications.

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