Retina scan can predict Multiple Sclerosis progression speed

First Posted: Dec 26, 2012 06:05 PM EST

Easy and fast to do retina scans could in the future help to diagnose and monitor Multiple Sclerosis. The test, called Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) scan, can show how fast a patients nervous system disease is progressing and takes just a few minutes per eye and can be performed at a general practitioner's surgery.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University, measuring the thickness of the lining at the back of the eye of 164 MS patients, found that patients with thinning of the retina had both earlier and more active forms of the disease. The test was performed every six months for an average of 21 months.

Reporting the findings in the journal Neurology, the researchers cautioned that the findings are only preliminary and a much larger trial would be needed with longer follow ups to judge how useful the eye scan might be in an everyday practice.

Multiple Sclerosis is an inflammatory disease where the nerves in the brain and spinal cord are affected causing serious neurological problems of all kinds, including hampered muscle movement, balance and vision. Protective and insulating layers of Myelin around nerves are attacked by the bodies own immune system, reducing and disabling the function of nerves.

The state of most patients with MS is characterized by fluctuations during the first 10 years with disease, returning to a more healthy state after outbreakes. But after that period, the patients often deterioate permanently. This unpredictable nature of the disease makes it extremely difficult for doctors to monitor MS. Scientists are hoping OCT scans can provide a good way to alleviate that difficulty. There is no cure for MS but treatments can help slow progression of the disease.

The study was supported by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the National Eye Institute and Braxton Debbie Angela Dillon and Skip Donor Advisor Fund.

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