Eye test may detect Parkinson's before symptoms appear

After detecting the disease in rats, researchers were also able to treat degeneration of the retina and Parkinson's using a diabetes drug.

By Stephen Feller

LONDON, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- Like Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease is difficult to diagnose without apparent symptoms. But, also like Alzheimer's disease, an eye test may soon change the ability of doctors to detect and possibly delay the effects of the condition.

Researchers at University College London found instruments used in routine eye tests can detect changes in the retina allowing for much earlier diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson's disease, according to a study published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica Communications.


In July, researchers at the University of Minnesota found differences in the way light reflects off the retina could indicate development of Alzheimer's disease and allow for much earlier treatment in the hope its effects may be delayed or prevented.

The imaging technique used for the Alzheimer's test is currently in a phase 1 clinical trial to validate its use, and the same technique is also being evaluated for use in diagnosing glaucoma in humans.

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While the test for Parkinson's has only been tried in rats, researchers at UCL have high hopes for it -- especially considering they may have also identified a potential treatment that protects both retinal cell death and prevents formation of the disease.


"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. Eduardo Normando, a consultant ophthalmologist and researcher at Western Eye Hospital and University College London, said in a press release.

For the study, researchers at UCL induced a form of Parkinson's disease in rats in order to check for retinal changes, confirming retinal ganglion cell changes and alterations in thickness of the retina using optical coherence tomography.

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The researchers then treated the rats with rosiglitazone, an anti-diabetes drug marketed as Avandia, which reduced the death of retinal cells and may also have a protective effect on the brain -- suggesting the drug as a possible treatment for Parkinson's disease.

"This is potentially a revolutionary breakthrough in the early diagnosis and treatment of one of the world's most debilitating diseases," said Dr. Francesca Cordeiro, a professor of glaucoma and retinal neurodegeneration at University College London.

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