Scientists have developed a new simple eye test that may offer a fast and easy way to monitor patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).
The Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) scan measures the thickness of the lining at the back of the eye - the retina.
It takes a few minutes per eye and can be performed in a doctor`s surgery, `BBC News` reported.
Multiple sclerosis is an illness that affects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord causing problems with muscle movement, balance and vision.
A trial involving 164 people found those with thinning of their retina had earlier and more active MS.
Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine tracked the patients` disease progression over a two-year period.
In MS, the protective sheath or layer around nerves, called myelin, comes under attack which, in turn, leaves the nerves open to damaged.
Researchers found that brain scans can reveal inflammation and scarring, but it is not clear how early these changes might occur in the disease and whether they accurately reflect ongoing damage.
Scientists have been looking for additional ways to track MS, and believe OCT may be a contender.
Unlike nerve cells in the rest of the brain which are covered with protective myelin, the nerve cells in the retina are bare with no myelin coat.
Experts suspect that this means the nerves here will show the earliest signs of MS damage, the report said.
The study found that people with MS relapses had much faster thinning of their retina than people with MS who had no relapses. So too did those whose level of disability worsened.
Similarly, people with MS who had inflammatory lesions that were visible on brain scans also had faster retinal thinning than those without visible brain lesions.