Parkinson's disease is one of the most debilitating long-term illnesses known to man. Unfortunately, most people do not realize they have this disease until the more serious symptoms occur. Some of these symptoms include muscle stiffness, shaking hands, balance problems, and impaired speech. A new study done by at the University College London (UCL), however, is hoping to change all of that. Through their work, these university researchers believe that a simple eye test can determine whether or not someone has an early stage of Parkinson's disease.
This study was published in the scientific journal Acta Neuropathologica Communications and took place in UCL's Institute of Ophthalmology. Researchers induced Parkinson's disease into a group of rats and examined whether or not there was a discernable change in their vision. After looking at all of the rats, these researchers were able to see two major differences using non-invasive tools to examine the retina. The two changes researchers noted were that these rats had thicker retinas and that the retinal ganglion cells were formed differently.
Doctors have always known that Parkinson's disease worsens a person's vision by depleting their store of dopamine neurons in the retina, but they have never looked into it as this study did. This study marks the first time eye doctors actually discovered a specific change in the retina long before the depleted dopamine had disastrous effects on the patient's brain and mobility.
Perhaps even more incredible than these first findings is what doctors discovered afterwards. After gathering all of their information about the changes in the retina, researchers gave all of the rats with Parkinson's an anti-diabetic drug called Rosiglitazone. This drug is supposed to help protect nerve cells. Researchers were stunned to discover just how much Rosiglitazone protected the rats' brains and retinas from further damage. They hypothesize that the diagnosis and treatment they gave these rats for their Parkinson's disease could very well be used on human patients in the future.
With the results from this test, and after further research to clarify this test's findings, it might be possible for eye doctors to perform a simple retina exam to detect early signs of Parkinson's disease The earlier doctors are able to detect Parkinson's, the more likely they can be proactive and prescribe Rosiglitazone to patients. Right now, doctors just prescribe drugs like Levodopa/Carbidopa, which helps with symptomatic relief, but cannot help slow down the progression of Parkinson's.
This is just an initial study, but the results are quite promising for the future diagnosis and treatment of this debilitating disease. Researchers hope that Rosiglitazone will be shown to actually slow down the progression of Parkinson's in future studies. If that is the case, then people with the disease may be able to live without developing major symptoms during their lifetime.
Every hour, someone in the UK is told they have Parkinson's. At the current moment, doctors are still only able to detect symptoms of this disease either after the brain has already been damaged, or when more serious symptoms like tremors appear. The researchers at UCL hope that this study will help reduce that number in future years through implementing early detection eye screenings and by prescribing Rosiglitazone to slow down Parkinson's progression.