Examining the eyes of animals has revealed a test for very early Parkinson’s Disease. This research may translate into an eye test for humans. If so, it offers hope to the 1 in 500 people worldwide who will develop Parkinson’s by allowing treatment to slow the condition in its earliest stages.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disease. Symptoms include muscle tremors, stiffness, and slow movement. It is not fatal by itself, but it reduces the quality of life. There is currently no definitive test, and doctors cannot diagnose this neurological disease until it has already damaged the brain. By then, efforts to slow the disease’s progression have less of an impact than if treatment started earlier.
Early indicators can tell scientists that a health condition is developing before symptoms manifest. Death of cells in the substantia nigra, a part of the midbrain, and the increase in abnormal clusters of a protein (called Lewy bodies) within nerve cells are what cause Parkinson’s.
Researchers have discovered that some of these indicators appear in the retina as well, and do so before other symptoms are noticeable. This gives medical professionals a way for early diagnosis of Parkinson’s via retinal examination.
Eye Exam for Parkinson’s
The test is non-invasive and low-cost. It uses standard medical equipment to detect changes in the retina most apparent through thinning of the retina layer. New treatments focus on slowing the disease. A reliable a bio-marker for early stage PD could have a huge impact on patient prognosis.
Researchers are hopeful that the test works on people. If it does, the effectiveness of treatments for this neurological disease could be more closely monitored. The eye exam may eventually lead to an understanding of the cause of PD.
Effective and safe early intervention is possible if PD can be detected before significant damage has occurred in the brain. One early intervention possibility is Rosiglitazone, a drug used for diabetes. In the study lab animals with drug-induced Parkinson’s were given Rosiglitazone to test it as an early intervention, The drug had a neuroprotective effect in both the retina and the brain.
PD can be associated with glaucoma and other vision conditions. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to have your vision checked regularly.
Study: “The retina as an early biomarker of neurodegeneration in a rotenone-induced model of Parkinson’s disease: evidence for a neuroprotective effect of rosiglitazone in the eye and brain.”
Eduardo Maria Normando et. al. Acta Neuropathologica Communications. Neuroscience of Disease , August, 2016