New eye test detects the earliest signs of glaucoma

Researchers at the Western Eye Hospital, part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, and University College London (UCL) have developed a new diagnostic tool to detect the earliest signs of glaucoma.


In clinical trials the pioneering new eye test allowed doctors to see individual nerve cell death in the back of the eye for the first time, using routine hospital eye examination equipment.

Glaucoma affects 60 million people in the world, with 1 in 10 suffering total sight loss in both eyes. Early detection means doctors can start treatments before sight loss begins.

The researchers hope that eventually it may be possible for opticians to do the tests, enabling even earlier detection of the disease. The test also has potential for early diagnosis of other degenerative neurological conditions, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis.

Professor Francesca Cordeiro from the Western Eye Hospital and UCL Institute of Ophthalmology led the research. Francesca said: “Detecting glaucoma early is vital as symptoms are not always obvious. Although detection has been improving, most patients have lost a third of vision by the time they are diagnosed.

“Now, for the first time, we have been able to show individual cell death and detect the earliest signs of glaucoma. While we cannot cure the disease, our test means treatment can start before symptoms begin. In the future, the test could also be used to diagnose other neurodegenerative diseases.”

Professor Philip Bloom, Chief Investigator at Western Eye Hospital added: “Treatment is much more successful when it is begun in early stages of the disease, when sight loss is minimal. Our developments mean we could diagnose patients 10 years earlier than was previously possible.”

The research is funded by Wellcome Trust. Bethan Hughes, from Wellcome’s Innovation team said: “This innovation has the potential to transform lives for those who suffer loss of sight through glaucoma, and offers hope of a breakthrough in early diagnosis of other neurodegenerative diseases. Loss of sight as you age is an incredibly difficult disability, impacting quality of life and independence.”

The technique developed is called DARC, which stands for detection of apoptosing retinal cells. It uses a specially developed fluorescent marker which attaches to cell proteins when injected into patients. Sick cells appear as white fluorescent spots during eye examination. Further studies will now be carried out to into DARC and how it can be used not only to diagnose and treat glaucoma patients but also for other neurodegenerative conditions.

The equipment used in the study was funded by a grant from Imperial Health Charity.

Please click here to read the full research published today.