Retinal layer thickness may help diagnose MS

July 07, 2023
A new study suggests that diagnosis of multiple sclerosis can be significantly improved by measuring the thickness of retinal layers in the eye. The procedure helps to detect the condition at an earlier stage and predict its progression more accurately. This can lead to a decisive increase in the chance of improved patient outcomes.

MS is an autoimmune, chronic inflammatory disease that causes inflammation and loss of nerve cells throughout the nervous system. For the most part, patients are unable to feel the consequences of this damage to begin with, so the condition often goes undiagnosed until a late stage, meaning that valuable time is lost during which effective treatment could have been administered. Given that early detection and prognosis of the disease’s progression play a decisive role in MS cases, medical researchers have been trying to find improved detection methods for some time now to help avert serious consequences such as impaired mobility and blindness as far as possible. 

As part of their investigation, the research team at the Department of Neurology at MedUni Vienna and University Hospital Vienna collaborated with colleagues from MedUni Vienna and University Hospital Vienna’s Department of Ophthalmology and Optometrics to examine 267 MS patients over a period of five years. Their research built on study results published in 2022, which showed that MS relapse-related damage to the retina reflects the degree of damage caused to the patient’s brain. The previous study also demonstrated that a 5 micrometer reduction in the thickness of the retinal layer following optic neuritis indicated a doubling of the risk of permanent disability after the next relapse. Thanks to the latest research with the large cohort of MS patients, the research team confirmed that the thickness of the retinal layer can be used as a precise biomarker to assist early diagnosis.

The researchers used a procedure known as optical coherence tomography to measure the thickness of the retinal layer. An imaging method that uses infrared light, OCT allows for the generation of high-resolution, three-dimensional images of extremely thin layers of tissue measuring just a few micrometers. OCT is also a tool for diagnosing and evaluating the progression of eye diseases such as glaucoma. 

In the next phases of research, the focus will turn to the importance of retinal layer thickness in measuring responses to MS treatment.

The findings have been published in the journal Neurology.

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