Eye Scan May Help Diagnose, Treat MS

A recent study shows that a short and simple eye scan not only appears capable of determining signs of multiple sclerosis earlier, but might also provide a way to track progression of the illness, and the effectiveness of new drugs in development.

Dr. Peter Calabresi, lead author of the study and director of the John Hopkins Multiple Sclerosis Center, sees the study as "so compelling" that every MS center would be using the procedure in three to five years.

The findings, which involve a technology called optical coherence tomography (OCT), are published in the October issue of Neurology journal.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system wherein the myelin-the protective covering of the nerves-is damaged.

Many studies into the disease have focused on the damage to the myelin, but it has become evident that the axon, or nerve fiber, is also damaged in individuals with MS. The research shows that the axons are damaged earlier in the disease than originally thought.

In fact, according to the study authors, axon degeneration resulting from "demyelination" and from inflammation is thought to be responsible for much of the permanent disability that comes with MS.

Conventional MRIs have long been used to measure decreases in the brain’s volume, an indication of how many neurons are dying.

However, MRI technology is not only expensive and uncomfortable, it is also misleading. It doesn’t take into account the brain inflammation that is also a character of the disease. Additionally, brain shrinkage happens relatively late in the disease, when treatments become less effective.

OCT gauges the thickness of retinal nerve fiber, which becomes the optic nerve and is affected early in the course of MS. This test would specifically look into the nerve’s damage, as opposed to more general brain damage.

The cost of the eye exam costs only a fraction of a conventional MRI. As researchers have noted, the test is also user-friendly, inexpensive, and less time-consuming for the patient.

The researchers conducted the study by using the eye exam to scan the layers of nerve fibers in the retina of 40 people with different stages of MS.

Meanwhile, fifteen healthy volunteers served as control participants. It has found out that there is a strong association between retinal fiber thickness and how much the brain had atrophied.

However, optical nerve damage can also be used to indicate other ailments such as glaucoma, which would need to be ruled out.

Further studies are currently being done involving the OCT.

 
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