Simple eye test could detect Parkinson’s before symptoms develop

© Luis Auyanet
A simple cost-effective and non-invasive eye exam may be able to detect Parkinson’s disease – crucially before any symptoms develop, according to new research.

A new method of observing early changes in the retina may be able to catch the warning signs of Parkinson’s before any developments in the brain occur, and before symptoms like tremors and muscle stiffness begin.

The new imaging technique was discovered by scientists at London's UCL Institute of Ophthalmology by using instruments already routinely used in optometrists and eye clinics.

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It is hoped the method, which was published in Acta Neuropathologica Communications, could lead to earlier diagnosis of Parkinson’s as well as help monitor a patient's progress and response to treatment.

The technique has already been tested on humans with glaucoma and trials for its effect on Alzheimer’s is reportedly due to start soon.

This is potentially a revolutionary breakthrough in the early diagnosis and treatment of one of the world’s most debilitating diseases,” said Professor Francesca Cordeiro, UCL Professor of Glaucoma & Retinal Neurodegeneration Studies, who led the research.

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

Early detection of Parkinson’s disease is crucial as symptoms usually surface only after over 70 percent of the brain’s dopamine-producing cells have already been destroyed.

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 first author Dr Eduardo Normando, Consultant Ophthalmologist at Western Eye Hospital and UCL.

The progressive disease is, while incurable, can be livable with an early diagnosis and a proper course of treatment.

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”, added Dr Normando.

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Parkinson’s is the second most common neurodegenerative disease in the world and will affect 1 in every 500 people.