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Eyes could be a window to your health

April 30, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
It's an eye scan of the future, and it could reveal diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's before symptoms even appear. The saying goes, "The eyes are the window to the soul." It turns out your eyes may also be a window to your health. Now a new technology shows us just what your eyes reveal.

Click in the Eyewitness News Story Window above to watch the accompanying video to this story.

Pilot Keith Mosing has been flying planes for 40 years.

"You're on your own. You're free. You're in the air. You're controlling your own destiny," said Keith.

Keith was in control until cataracts grounded him.

"I could just tell something wasn't right. I couldn't see things other people could see. I've been an aviator for 40 years and it's important to have good eyesight," said Keith.

Ironically, an eye scan tested high in the sky could have detected Keith's cataracts long before he saw any signs of the problem.

"I consider [the] eye as a window into the body," said professor of ophthalmology and health informatics Dr. Rafat Ansari.

Dr. Ansari spent 20 years working with NASA focusing on eyes. Now, he's taking his knowledge from up there to down here.

"Every tissue type and every fluid type in the eye are representative of every tissue and every fluid type in the rest of the body," explained Dr. Ansari.

One new low-powered laser is 200 to 300 times more sensitive, and can detect cataracts long before more conventional cataract tests. But this is just the beginning.

"You hear this whooshing sound. This is my heart. You're really listening to my heart," said Dr. Ansari as he demonstrates the device. "So I'm looking into the eye, but looking into my heart."

And diabetes can be detected.

"We put the cornea in the front. Push this button, it will send blue light crisscrossing my cornea, and then if it's a diabetic cornea it will release green light," said Dr. Ansari.

Through scans like these, soon Ansari believes doctors will be able to see the first signs of diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Dr. Ansari started his work on cataracts after his father developed them. Clinical trials are starting in the next month, so some of these eye scans could be available across the country in the next few years

For more information:

Background: Diabetes, Parkinson's, cataracts and Alzheimer's: more than 46 million Americans live with these life-altering diseases. For some, early detection could lessen the diseases' impact, but for others, there is little doctors can do to detect the conditions before they progress. Parkinson's, for example, develops when neurons in the brain become damaged or deleted, but the first signs of the disease are not obvious until 80 percent of these neurons are damaged beyond repair. Other tests, like those for diabetes, can be painful and long, requiring patients to drink a syrupy liquid, then have their blood drawn.

Eyes: Windows to the body? Your eyes can tell a lot more than read and blink. Just by looking into the eye, doctors can "see" your heart beat, nutrient levels and even warning signs of disease. Researchers from the University of Texas School of Health Information Sciences at Houston have developed laser devices to non-invasively examine the eye to get early detection of eye conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and retinopathy as well as systemic diseases like diabetes, neurological disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and osteoporosis.

How it works: The eye itself is made up of numerous tissues and layers. When light enters the eye through the cornea, it must travel through the tissues of the eye, which Texas researchers say are representative of nearly every tissue type in the body. The aqueous region, located between the cornea and the iris, has the same components and concentrations as blood serum. Therefore, the concentration of glucose in the aqueous mimics the glucose concentration in the blood, giving doctors a non-invasive indication of a person's blood glucose levels -- vital for diabetes detection. When doctors transmit a laser light through the eye, they can determine the glucose levels in the aqueous.

Alzheimer's can be detected using Dynamic Light Scattering -- when light beams mix with a system of particles. The amyloid proteins affected in Alzheimer's disease can promote aggregation of ocular proteins in the lens. When light passes through the eye, it can measure this protein aggregation. If Alzheimer's is detected at an early state, patients can perhaps be treated for early stages of the disease. The effects of early treatment and detection are not yet fully understood.

Testing up in the sky: The need for non-invasive testing methods is great among astronauts stationed in outer space for long-term missions.

These laser methods, which are 200 to 300 times more sensitive than conventional cataract testing methods, were tested in space where loose fluids and large testing machines cannot be. Their use, however, is just as valuable on the ground as it is in space.

 

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