Eye scans can detect early stages of Parkinson’s disease.

Eye scans can detect early stages of Parkinson's disease.

Eye Scans Could Potentially Diagnose Parkinson’s Disease Years Earlier


In recent groundbreaking research, a team of British scientists from University College London and Moorfields Eye Hospital has made a significant breakthrough in the early detection of Parkinson’s disease. They have discovered that eye scans may hold the key to detecting signs of Parkinson’s up to seven years before diagnosis. This finding is revolutionary as it may enable individuals at high risk of Parkinson’s to take proactive measures in managing the disease, potentially delaying its onset and mitigating its impact.

Lead author Dr. Siegfried Wagner, from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital, expressed his astonishment at the capabilities of eye scans, stating, “I continue to be amazed by what we can discover through eye scans. While we are not yet ready to predict whether an individual will develop Parkinson’s, we hope that this method could soon become a pre-screening tool for people at risk of disease.” The potential of this new diagnostic technique extends beyond Parkinson’s disease, as it may also pave the way for the early detection of other neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, and even risk factors for high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

The researchers utilized artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to analyze the AlzEye dataset and the wider U.K. Biobank. AlzEye is considered the world’s largest single-institution retinal imaging information database. Despite Parkinson’s relatively low prevalence in the population, ranging from 0.1% to 0.2%, the dataset provided the necessary insight to identify these subtle markers. The field of “oculomics,” which focuses on eye scan data, has already revealed signs of numerous neurodegenerative conditions, highlighting the potential for eye scans to revolutionize healthcare by providing early disease detection.

One of the key advancements driving this breakthrough is the utilization of high-resolution imaging techniques, such as optical coherence tomography (OCT). OCT scans can rapidly produce detailed cross-sections of the retina down to a thousandth of a millimeter. These scans offer a non-intrusive method to examine the cellular layers beneath the skin’s surface, providing an unprecedented level of detail. With the help of machine learning algorithms, computers can analyze large volumes of OCTs and other eye images, enabling researchers to identify subtle changes and markers that are not visible to the human eye.

Dr. Louisa Wickham, medical director at Moorfields, emphasized the potential impact of increasing the availability of eye imaging across larger populations. She stated, “Increasing imaging across a wider population will have a huge impact on public health in the future and will eventually lead to predictive analysis.” Compared to brain scans, OCT scans are more scalable, non-invasive, cost-effective, and faster, making them a promising tool for early disease detection.

The findings from this groundbreaking research were published in the prestigious journal Neurology, a publication of the American Academy of Neurology. The validation and dissemination of this research further highlight the significance and potential impact of using eye scans as a diagnostic tool in the field of neurodegenerative diseases.

By harnessing the power of eye scans and AI algorithms, physicians and researchers may soon be able to identify early signs of Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. This groundbreaking discovery offers hope for individuals at risk of developing these conditions, enabling them to make lifestyle changes that can potentially delay or prevent the onset of life-altering diseases. As technology continues to advance, eye scans may become an indispensable part of routine healthcare, allowing for faster and more accurate diagnoses, and ultimately improving the overall well-being of individuals at risk.


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Source: University College London, news release, Aug. 21, 2023