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Changes in the Eye May Be a Window to Parkinson's Disease

Changes in the Eye May Be a Window to Parkinson's Disease

The latest clue to early detection of Parkinson's disease may lie in the eye. A small study from South Korea published recently in the journal Neurology found that people with early-stage Parkinson's show a thinning of their retinas, a layer of light-sensitive nerve cells at the back of the eye.

"Our study is the first to show a link between the thinning of the retina and a known sign of the progression of the disease -- the loss of brain cells that produce dopamine," said study author Jee-Young Lee, MD, PhD, of the Seoul Metropolitan Government -- Seoul National University Boramae Medical Center, in a press release." These discoveries may mean that neurologists may eventually be able to use a simple eye scan to detect Parkinson's disease in its earliest stages, before problems with movement begin."

The study involved 49 people diagnosed with Parkinson's an average of two years ago and 54 control volunteers. The people with Parkinson's had more retinal thinning. Also, the scientists found that the thinner the retina, the more dopamine loss seen on a brain scan (DaTscan) and the greater one's physical disability.

Scientists are looking for tests to diagnose Parkinson's early so they can study the disease in its beginning stages, learn more about its causes, and test therapies to stop its progression.

The Michael J. Fox Foundation has funded several studies looking at the eye for early signs of disease. Some have measured structural changes in the retina. Others are looking at levels of the Parkinson's-associated protein alpha-synuclein in the eye.

These are part of a larger portfolio of Foundation-supported projects developing non-invasive ways to measure Parkinson's disease: from dogs sniffing out Parkinson's to measuring changes in facial expression. And we're investing in more traditional disease measures, as well, such as brain scans and blood tests.

Interested in taking part in important research to find new tests for Parkinson's disease? Register with Fox Trial Finder to match with studies looking for volunteers.

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