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Eye Exam May Someday Spot Multiple Sclerosis

Thinning retina can signal onset, but routine test is a long way off, researchers say

THURSDAY, June 10, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- A simple eye test may one day help diagnose multiple sclerosis in its earliest stages and enable researchers to assess the effectiveness of treatments, according to a new study.

The test -- optical coherence tomography (OCT) -- measures thinning of the retina in people with MS, said researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

"This technique has the potential to provide a powerful and reliable assessment strategy to measure structural changes in the central nervous system," study co-senior author Dr. Elliot Frohman, professor of neurology and ophthalmology and director of the Multiple Sclerosis Clinical Center at UT Southwestern, said in a medical center news release.

The test may not only be used for diagnostic purposes, but in clinical trials "to monitor whether potential treatments can prevent deterioration or restore nerve function," Frohman added.

He and his colleagues used OCT to track retinal thinning in 299 MS patients for between six months and 4.5 years. They found significant retinal thinning and a corresponding decrease in visual sharpness during the patient monitoring.

OCT is reliable, easy to use, painless and sensitive to retinal changes over time, the researchers concluded.

"An ophthalmologist might someday be able to use OCT to identify retinal thinning during a routine eye exam and consider MS as a prime diagnosis," Frohman said. "However, this prospect is a long way off."

The study appears in the June issue of the journal Annals of Neurology. The research was a joint project with the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, John Hopkins University School of Medicine, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about multiple sclerosis.

SOURCE: UT Southwestern Medical Center, June 7, 2010, news release.
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