The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (MJFF) recently awarded a $1 million grant to The Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Schools of Medicine and Engineering to test a tool for diagnosing Parkinson's disease (PD). Currently, there is no objective measurement (such as a blood test) doctors can use to definitively diagnose Parkinson's disease. Researchers at VCU have developed a non-invasive eye test that could potentially inform whether someone has Parkinson's disease.
Using infrared lights, the test tracks the eye movements of a person as they stare at a screen and follow prompts. Eye movements typically follow very distinct patterns. In Parkinson's disease, the loss of cells that use dopamine (a brain chemical) to coordinate movement can cause alterations in these patterns. While these changes may be unnoticeable to a casual observer, they could be detected with more sensitive eye testing, such as that used by VCU researchers.
With the support of MJFF, the VCU team will replicate their research in additional academic centers in order to verify that the test is in fact able to accurately diagnose Parkinson's. In addition, they hope to prove that the test can detect Parkinson's before physical symptoms are present. Earlier and more precise diagnosis would allow doctors to begin disease-targeted therapies before the disease progresses and could also prevent misdiagnosis.
Read a post from the "Ask the MD" blog series to learn more about vision and Parkinson's disease and how to manage visual symptoms.