Research involving optical coherence tomography (OCT) may have uncovered a means of evaluating brain damage resulting from multiple sclerosis. Eye scans are commonly employed in ophthalmology.
No radiation results from a scan. The cost of an eye scan is only 10 percent of what it would cost to perform an MRI.
The health of the eye is an indicator of the health of the brain. OCT was used to observe nerves in the back of the eye with software developed to evaluate layers of retinal tissue.
An Oct. 17, 2012 article on ScienceDaily.com reported that Peter A. Calabresi, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Multiple Sclerosis Center, and professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, led the study using this eye scan.
Swelling or thickness in the retina's inner nuclear layer was measured in 164 MS patients as well as in 60 control patients over a period of four years.
Brain MRIs were used to assess spots of inflammation. A correlation was seen between the inflammation found with MRIs and inflammation discovered with OCT.
This indicated that using retinal scans alone could be very useful in evaluating brain damage. This would in turn make it easier to measure the progression of MS.
This research was published in The Lancet Neurology.
Calabresi led other research which focused on the eye and brain scans for 84 patients with MS and 24 control subjects. Cell wasting was seen in the ganglion cell layer + inner plexiform layer (GCL+IPL), and the peripapillary retinal nerve fiber layer (pRFNL). These layers are deep layers in the retina.
The cell wasting was linked with atrophy of the brain's gray matter which indicated nerve damage caused by MS. This is significant because in the past it has been a challenge to be able to determine the extent of neurodegeneration.
But Calabresi said that now it would be possible to perform an eye scan to guage the damage, allowing the doctor to formulate proper treatment.
The study also suggested that MS may be caused by something more than or other than the immune system attacking myelin (fatty protein).