Eye Scans Reveal Clues About MS Disease Progression

Published Online: Thursday, February 14, 2013
The degree of retinal eye inflammation in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients was found to be correlated with the amount of inflammation seen in their brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, according to new research funded in part by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and published in recent issues of The Lancet Neurology and the Archives of Neurology.

The Johns Hopkins University study enrolled 164 relapsing or progressive MS patients and 60 control subjects. Using optical coherence tomography (OCT), researchers examined the retinas of participants over the course of 4 years and compared the changes observed in the thickness of the retinal layers with brain MRI images and neurologic assessments in an attempt to evaluate the relationship between changes in the eye tissue and disease activity.

The results showed that the eye scans had a predictive value: the retinas of relapsing MS patients degraded 42% faster than those of the progressive MS patients. Patients who had MS for fewer than 5 years had 32% faster retinal thinning than those who had the condition for more than 5 years. Subjects whose disability worsened during the study period had 37% faster retinal damage than those with no relapses.

Peter Calabresi, MD, professor of neurology and lead author of the study, pointed out that testing retinal thinning with OCT scans may be a useful way to evaluate the effectiveness of new drug therapies developed to slow the progression of MS. “Eye scans are not that expensive, are really safe, and are widely used in ophthalmology.

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