Professor Peter Calabresi and colleagues from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine used an optical coherence tomography (OCT) to scan nerves deep in the back of the eye, applying special software they co-developed to measure thickness or swelling of the inner nuclear layer of the retina in 164 patients with MS and 60 healthy controls then followed changes in these tissues over four years. They also used brain MRI to measure inflammation spots directly, and performed clinical tests to determine disability levels.
The more inflammation and swelling the researchers found in the retinas of the MS patients, the more inflammation showed up in their brain MRIs. The correlation, they said, affirmed the value of the retinal scans as a stand-alone surrogate for brain damage.
“The eye is the window into the brain and by measuring how healthy the eye is, we can determine how healthy the rest of the brain is,” said Professor Calabresi.
“Eye scans are not that expensive, are really safe, and are widely used in ophthalmology… We should be using this new quantitative tool to learn more about disease progression, including nerve damage and brain atrophy.”