Could an eye exam diagnose Parkinson’s?

An Ontario group is working on a wide-ranging study to see if eyes can really provide ‘windows to the brain’

Female patient having eye tested in hospital. (Phil Fisk/Getty Images)

Female patient having eye tested in hospital. (Phil Fisk/Getty Images)

Thirteen years ago, Chris Hudson was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. “I remember the day in October. It was probably the bleakest of my life,” says Hudson, a professor at the University of Waterloo school of optometry and vision science. “I was 41 at the time. I had a young family.” Parkinson’s is a progressive disorder with no cure (Michael J. Fox famously shares the diagnosis). Today, Hudson, a scientist and optometrist by training, is developing an entirely new way to diagnose Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s. It could one day help doctors pinpoint who’s at risk before their clinical symptoms start to appear, and pave the way for new treatments. He’s looking for signs of disease in an unexpected place: the patient’s eye.

Hudson calls the eye a “window” into the brain. The retina, made up of light-sensitive cells at the back of the eye, is mostly neural tissue—and can be examined non-invasively, using an optical version of ultrasound. “The advances in imaging in this area, even over the last 12 months, are huge,” he says. The retinas of patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases seem to undergo subtle changes before outward symptoms show. There’s good evidence to suggest that nerve cell death in the brains of patients also happens in the retina of the eye, something Hudson is working to better understand. One study by another research team suggested that an eye exam could diagnose Alzheimer’s up to 20 years before clinical symptoms take hold.

Hudson is co-lead on one part of a wide-ranging study looking into five devastating diseases: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), frontotemporal dementia, vascular cognitive impairment after a stroke, as well as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. His work is part of the Ontario Neurodegenerative Disease Research Initiative, or ONDRI, a collaboration of more than 50 researchers around the province. They’re tracking a group of about 600 patients, regularly assessing their gait, taking scans of their brains, tracking eye movement, even analyzing their genes. As well, by comparing changes in the retina over time with the other assessments taken by his colleagues, Hudson will have a more complete picture of how retinal changes relate to disease.

The ultimate goal is to develop new drugs, which are sorely needed, but earlier diagnosis is also crucial. Right now, the time it takes to diagnose patients is hindering drug development. “There’s no really suitable way of recruiting people at an early stage [of disease], when drugs are most likely to succeed,” he says, or to measure and track the progression of disease. “In many ways, we don’t even know the speed of development of, say, Parkinson’s disease.”

As a Parkinson’s patient, Hudson—who manages his symptoms with drugs and exercise—understands the frustration of others, for whom a treatment can’t come quickly enough. “Science is a step-by-step process, and it has to be that way,” he says. As a patient and scientist, he’s hopeful that a breakthrough is finally coming. “The payoffs are potentially incredible. If we can do this, it will have a huge impact on the management of all these diseases.”



Could an eye exam diagnose Parkinson’s?

  1. This will be important for future infrastructures. They told me one of the toughest illnesses to diagnose is multiple personality disorder (often misdiagnosed as schizophrenia). The toddler treatment is to have her make up a story, and then when the episode happens, to let her know it isn’t real, just like the story isn’t real. It can manifest when a child is painfully sexually assaulted and then it isn’t painful after a few years. As a teenager, treatment becomes tougher but anti-depressants would help.
    Apparently my future career for the next two decades is to keep crazy people and hackers out of key infrastructures. 100 different bureaucracies to start and 1000 eventually. The biometric ID suggested is EEG brainwaves as the quantum key for virology lab access. Coupled with a brainscan (headset) every few hours and keeping the brainwave record. Apparently some mental illnesses will be diagnosable with just a cheap EEG. A positive test leads to seeing a shrink and/or diagnosis much better than what we have got already. The suggestion was to hook up the Virology lab with two hospitals (quantum encrypted lines), and with Atlanta. And maybe Atlanta with Maryland. Access control prevents all electronics from being used by a person, and no internet access at these key databases. And a program/OS that is hack resistant…Perhaps IT courses in the future should come with mental illness screens and mandatory diagnosis. They mentioned a college I was hacked at in N.Vancouver is the 2nd most mentally ill college in Canada/USA, next to a gangsta college in LA. and that the gangsters in Wpg aren’t a threat to the Virology Lab as long as the lines are underground whereas the ill hackers in N.Vancouver are a security threat. And that a leading AI proponent has autism, so can’t accurately model the world he wants to bring AI into…I suppose all handouts, especially those for WMD0related fields, should be dependant on getting mental illnesses diagnosed and treated if possible.

  2. …the suggestion, since stickers are a bad idea, is temporary two week or two month EEG tattoos on infant heads to detect mental illnesses. I’m personally not sure how effective such a dataset would eventually be. Internal (in the mush) brain sensors risk brainwashing techniques being devised. For initial access control, a virology lab might attempt a breathilizer that looks for alcohol as well as the scent of schizophrenia. They said it is good Wpg doesn’t have a large IT sector. I notice virology is being primed for rapid response and identification of diseases, yet an infrastructure like the ancient USA missile silos is better. This is a dichotomy that will come to fruition in twenty to thirty years with designer strains of diseases being hacked, I think.
    After mental illnesses and hackers, I can access control rationality apparently. This will kick a lot of Christians out of the USA DofD at least for some higher education. The hard part is utilitarianism. Apparently our power political weighting are good (4 billion people at present should be politically powerless, most children and senile elderly obviously ), with the top 10 maybe worth maybe 1/2 to one million of the median three billion people. But for choosing C&C with smart phones, the specific individuals are generally wrong.
    They compared Trump to a 2115 Nazi world-line where the gvmt is a lot like USSR post Stalin. I have to ask 4 good questions to get three answers about how to stop AI and the mindset necessary to prevent WMDs must be earned; precludes spoon-feeding me the questions.
    They suggest 1/3 the solution to not using WMDs or getting a tyranny is curing mental illnesses and/or keeping them out of power.

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