The eyes are not a mirror of the soul, but of the central nervous system; if you look closely, you can detect signs of Parkinson’s disease up to seven years before the onset of symptoms.
3D eye scanning is used by vision experts to analyze the state of the retina, which is a collection of nerve cells located at the back of the eye. At some point, they realized that these same scanners contains information related to the health of the body and brain.
Since then, scientists have sought to use these observations to diagnose neurological conditions and disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, and Parkinson’s disease, in an emerging field called “oculomia”.
“I’m still amazed at what we can learn from eye scans,” says ophthalmologist Siegfried Wagner of Moorfields Eye Hospital.
In collaboration with colleagues from various UK hospitals, Wagner has conducted the largest study to date on retinal imaging and its association with Parkinson’s disease.
Previously, scientists noted that in the retina of patients who died from Parkinson’s disease, abnormalities were observed, but it was not clear whether these changes could be detected in life. New results show that this is possible. In fact, the eyes may a window into how the disease arises and progresses.
Using the support of an artificial intelligence program, the researchers compared eye shots 154,830 patients aged 40 and older. Of this sample, 700 people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease had a small but significant difference in the appearance of the retina.
Eye scans showed a thinning of the inner layer of ganglion cells, a type of neuron responsible for transmitting visual information via dopamine.
The scientists then used this information to analyze eye scans of 67,311 people from the UK BioBank database, where 53 of them during the study, they were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It was concluded that such thinning of the inner nodal layer may appear in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, even before the onset of clinical symptoms.
These findings support previous reports of thinning nodes in people with Parkinson’s disease and further support the notion that in the eyes one of the first external signs of the disease can be detected.
Today, one of the main difficulties in diagnosing and treating Parkinson’s disease is that the symptoms tend to lag behind the underlying pathology. Detecting early stages with the help of the eye could revolutionize both the way doctors treat and the way they study disease.