Using the Eye as a ‘Window Into the Brain’
An inexpensive, five-minute eye scan can accurately assess the amount of brain damage in people with the debilitating autoimmune disorder multiple sclerosis (MS), and offer clues about how quickly the disease is progressing, according to results of two Johns Hopkins studies.
“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,” says Peter A. Calabresi, M.D., a professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and leader of the studies described in recent issues of The Lancet Neurology and the Archives of Neurology. “Eye scans are not that expensive, are really safe, and are widely used in ophthalmology, and now that we have evidence of their predictive value in MS, we think they are ready for prime time. We should be using this new quantitative tool to learn more about disease progression, including nerve damage and brain atrophy.”
Calabresi and his colleagues used optical coherence tomography (OCT) to scan nerves deep in the back of the eye, applying special software they co-developed that is capable of assessing previously immeasurable layers of the light-sensitive retinal tissue. The scan uses no harmful radiation and is one-tenth the cost of an MRI. The software will soon be widely available commercially.