A multi-million pound research project has concluded that eye scans can be used to detect the early stages of a number of chronic eye conditions. The outcome is an important step forward in improving earlier diagnosis of conditions affecting vision, ranging from diabetic retinopathy to dementia, hypertension and strokes. These conditions all have the potential to affect the blood supply – or ‘vasculature’ – to the retina at the back of the eye, which is crucial for vision.
The study lasted four years and combined computer-assisted photography with mathematic modelling to identify tiny changes in the blood vessels supplying the retina. This enables earlier diagnosis of conditions affecting the vasculature. Earlier diagnosis in turn allows doctors to provide earlier treatment that can stem future deterioration and reduce or avoid loss of sight.
Loss of vision has a catastrophic effect on patients and millions in the UK and beyond are living with conditions like diabetes and stroke that carry risks of retinal damage. The risks are well known and across the UK screening clinics are already run, for example, to screen patients who have been diagnosed with diabetes for diabetic retinopathy each year. Even so, early diagnosis can be difficult because changes to the vascular system can be subtle at first and may often lead to some permanent loss of vision before being recognised. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness globally. In England alone, around 4,200 patients are diagnosed as being at risk every year.
Andrew Clayton of Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team has a special interest in claims involving ophthalmic injury. He comments: “This is a major step forward in eye care, paving the way for the development of early screening of patients at risk of developing complications due to retinal damage. The results of this study offer hope that earlier diagnosis could become the norm.
“Further investment will be needed to leverage the research results to implement widespread screening, but this should hopefully only be a matter of time. The potential benefits to patients are obvious. Investing in early scanning also offers scope to reduce costs significantly to both the NHS and social care systems of managing patients who would otherwise suffer visual loss.”