Jan
18
2010

The eyes are the window to disease

Retina as indicator of disease: This is not exactly what the optician will see when s/he examines your eye...that would be too easy.
Retina as indicator of disease: This is not exactly what the optician will see when s/he examines your eye...that would be too easy.Courtesy Cayusa
Alzheimer’s disease, that is. A technique developed by researchers at University College London (UCL), located on Repetitious Redundant Lane, allows your optician to not only find the proper lens prescription, but also screen you for early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Their method takes advantage of the fact that the cells in the retina (the light-sensitive lining in the back of the eye) are direct extensions of the brain. As shown in the picture below, the retina is continuous with the optic nerve (also known as cranial nerve II), which then leads straight into the brain. The UCL researchers have found that the amount of retinal cell damage corresponds directly to the amount brain cell deterioration. They have also identified a particular pattern of retinal damage that is characteristic of Alzheimer’s patients.

Relation of the eyes to the optic nerve: Here you can see how closely connected the retinas (the back of the purple blobs) are to the optic nerve, and to the brain.
Relation of the eyes to the optic nerve: Here you can see how closely connected the retinas (the back of the purple blobs) are to the optic nerve, and to the brain.Courtesy William Vroman
The way to measure this damage simply involves using special eye drops that highlight dying retinal cells. Your optician can then observe the extent and configuration of the deterioration. Research shows that cells start to die ten to 20 years before Alzheimer’s symptoms start to surface, so this procedure could be used to diagnose the disease in its early stages. This test would be quick, easy, and inexpensive, and being able to detect the disease early would allow doctors to treat, and possibly reverse the symptoms of this disease.

So far, the researchers have only tested this technique on mice, but they will start to test human subjects in the near future. According to UCL, you might be able to receive this test within the next five years. However, there are some reasons that people might not want to screen themselves. There is fear that insurance companies could increase the premiums of middle aged people who test positive. There are also people who would just rather not know they may have this devastating disease in their future. How about you? Would you want to know?

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

bryan kennedy's picture

I think I'd curious about knowing the results of this test. I always like to balance my interest in my future health against the cost of the procedure. So this potentially cheap test interest me more than a full genome decoding or something.

I also tend to think that knowing what's happening to you makes it more bearable. Do you guys agree?

I also hope that we create health insurance reform that doesn't discourage people from using science to examine their brains due to potential future outcomes.

posted on Tue, 01/19/2010 - 12:25pm

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <h3> <h4> <em> <i> <strong> <b> <span> <ul> <ol> <li> <blockquote> <object> <embed> <param> <sub> <sup>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may embed videos from the following providers vimeo, youtube. Just add the video URL to your textarea in the place where you would like the video to appear, i.e. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw0jmvdh.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Images can be added to this post.

More information about formatting options