This facial feature might give away early sign of Parkinson’s disease

17 Aug 2018

Image: Aleshyn_Andrei/Shutterstock

In an effort to diagnose Parkinson’s disease earlier in patients, scientists could start checking your eyes for a key indicator.

With no known cure, Parkinson’s disease is a long-term degenerative disorder that takes over the central nervous system, leading to the development of shaking, a slowness of movement and difficulty walking.

As is this the case with any incurable disease, treating it as early as possible offers the best hope of a better quality of life. This has led to researchers trying to find ways of accurately diagnosing someone in the earliest stages of the disease.

To that end, a team of researchers from South Korea has published findings in the journal of the American Academy of Neurology that could pinpoint a bodily indicator of Parkinson’s disease.

According to the team, the eye might be a window to the brain of those undiagnosed with the disease.

People living with it gradually lose brain cells that produce dopamine, central to controlling movement.

Now, this new study shows that the thinning of the retina – the lining of nerve cells in the back of the eye – is linked to the loss of these brain cells.

A simple test

The study compared 49 people aged 69 or older with 54 people of a similar age without the disease.

All of the participants were given a complete eye exam as well as high-resolution eye scans that use light waves to take pictures of each layer of the retina.

The results showed that thinning was found in the two inner layers of the retina in those with Parkinson’s out of a total of five.

In essence, the thinner a person’s retina was, the more brain cells they had lost that produce dopamine.

“Larger studies are needed to confirm our findings and to determine just why retina thinning and the loss of dopamine-producing cells are linked,” said Jee-Young Lee, who wrote the paper.

“If confirmed, retina scans may not only allow earlier treatment of Parkinson’s disease, but more precise monitoring of treatments that could slow progression of the disease as well.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic