Using retinal scans to identify signs of Parkinson’s

Dr Siegfried Wagner talks about his research, which applied artificial intelligence technology to eye scans

Retinal scans have been used to identify signs of Parkinson’s an average of seven years before clinical presentation.

Dr Siegfried Wagner, of the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital, explained to OT that researchers examined data from a group of patients who have Parkinson’s.

Researchers found that people with Parkinson’s disease have a thinner ganglion cell and plexiform layer, as well as a thinner inner nuclear layer.

He added that while the thinner ganglion cell and plexiform layer is seen in other neurological conditions, the thinner inner nuclear layer is more unusual.

“That hasn’t really been reported in neurological diseases before,” Wagner shared.

The second element of the research was looking at a healthy cohort of volunteers through the UK Biobank study. In this group, 70,000 people had eye scans.

Within this group, 53 people went on to develop Parkinson’s disease over a 15-year period.

“Those same changes [thinner ganglion cell, plexiform and inner nuclear layer] were detectable on average seven years before the clinical presentation. It is not just something you see in people with established Parkinson’s disease,” he said.

Wagner and his peers are also exploring how signs of other conditions – such as schizophrenia and gum disease – can be detected in the retina.

Wagner emphasised that retinal scanning is unlikely to become a diagnostic tool for general health conditions, but it may be useful in screening.

“In certain parts of Asia, they are already looking at screening with retinal photographs for an individual’s risk of heart attack and stroke,” he said.