Researchers at the Centre for Eye Research (CERA) have discovered a method of checking the health of a person’s brain by looking deep into the eyes.
The non-invasive method of detecting ‘silent’ brain damage could lead to new ways to prevent the condition.
Silent brain infarcts, or ‘mini-strokes,’ are caused by blocked blood supply to the brain. The damage, which is linked to an increased risk of stroke and dementia, has no symptoms and, until now, could only be detected using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
A 10 year CERA study has found that people with abnormalities of the retina, located at the back of the eye, are two to three times more likely to experience silent brain infarcts within a ten year period than people without abnormalities.
A 10 year CERA study has found that people with abnormalities of the retina… are two to three times more likely to experience silent brain infarcts within a ten year period than people without abnormalities
CERA Research Fellow, Dr. Danny Cheung, said the findings suggest that a person’s risk of developing silent brain infarct and its associated conditions could be assessed using retinal imaging.
A conventional MRI scan can reveal only the damage caused by a mini-stroke and, until now, there has been no easy way to evaluate a person’s risk of suffering one.
“Until now, there’s been no easy way to evaluate the likelihood that a person will develop ‘silent’ brain infarct,” Dr. Cheung said.
“Through our study, we’ve discovered a unique, non-invasive way to view the health of the brain and detect damage before it shows up on brain scans or causes clinical symptoms.”
Dr Cheung hopes that one day, this simple test will be readily available to people who are at a high risk of stroke and dementia due to family history or other factors.
“The test could be an early warning to people with retinal abnormalities to better control risk factors like smoking, hypertension, diabetes and cholesterol, to help prevent silent brain infarct.”
To conduct the study, researchers assessed the retinal photographs and MRIs of 810 middle-aged patients over a ten year period. They then compared the MRIs of people with retinal vascular abnormalities to people without abnormalities.