A thinning retina was correlated to progression of Parkinson’s disease in new data published in an August issue of Neurology.

The thinner the retina, the greater the severity of the disease, said study author Jee-Young Lee, MD, Ph.D., of the Seoul Metropolitan Government – Seoul National University Boramae Medical Center in South Korea. “These discoveries may mean that neurologists may eventually be able to use a simple eye scan to detect Parkinson’s disease in its earliest stages, before problems with movement begin.”

Lee and his team studied almost 50 people, average age of 69, who were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease two years earlier but had not started medication. A high-resolution eye scan took light waves of each layer of the retina, and researchers also used dopamine transporter positron emission tomography for the brains of 28 patients.

For those Parkinson’s patients, the innermost layer of the retina in one section of their eye had an average thickness of 35 micrometers, compared to an average thickness of 37 μm for those without the disease, researchers said.

“Larger studies are needed to confirm our findings and to determine just why retina thinning and the loss of dopamine-producing cells are linked,” Lee said. “If confirmed, retina scans may not only allow earlier treatment of Parkinson’s disease but more precise monitoring of treatments that could slow progression of the disease as well.”