Researchers have found that a simple eye scan can monitor the progress of multiple sclerosis by measuring the thickness of a person's retina.
Known as an optical coherence tomography (OCT), the scan takes only a few minutes to measures the thickness of the retina, the lining of the back of the eye, and from that physicians can determine the extent to which the MS is advancing.
Expensive MRIs of the brain and spinal cord are the most common ways physicians currently determine if a person is suffering from MS. The brain scan is generally proceeded by a diagnoses from a physician based on a person's symptoms. Researchers hope the OCT scan will prove to be an additional way to help track the progress of MS.
An autoimmune disease, MS is a debilitating condition that prevents nerve cells in the brain from communicating with the spinal cord, causing muscle weakness and spasms that prevent a person from moving properly. Other MS symptoms include having difficulty speaking, swallowing, and seeing.
In the initial trial, a team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine performed eye scans on 164 people over a two-year period.
The study found that individuals who had MS relapses had retinas that thinned at a significantly faster rate when compared with the retinas of those who did not have MS relapses. In patients with thinner retinas the level of disability was also shown to have worsened in the trial.
In addition to its findings, the research team concluded that more trials that include a larger amount of test subjects are needed to safely judge how the eye scan could be used effectively in everyday practice.
"As more therapies are developed to slow the progression of MS, testing retinal thinning in the eyes may be helpful in evaluating how effective those therapies are," said Dr. Peter Calabresi, the study's author.
Though not considered a genetic disease, several genetic variations are believed to increase the risk of developing the disease, according to the study "Genetics of Multiple Sclerosis."
To date, there is no cure for MS, though there are several treatments that involve physical and occupational therapy as well as cognitive and vocational rehabilitation.
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