Scientists use eye movement to diagnose multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis, still uncured, is triggered by the combination of environmental, genetic and infectious factors.
Globally there are 2.3 million people with this disease and, on average, the diagnosis is usually made at 30 years of age.

Multiple sclerosis can be diagnosed through eye movement, according to the findings of a group of Portuguese scientists at the University of Minho who studied the disease for four years.

For the first time, it was demonstrated that eye movements can reveal cognitive changes in people with multiple sclerosis, according to Efe Agency, one of the seven researchers of the group, Paulo Alexandre Pereira, Ph.D. in Mathematics at the University of Minho.

The findings of this research, which have just been published in the American journal “PeerJ”, will be of great use to choose new treatments, fight this disease of the nervous system and apply new techniques or treatments that attenuate the progression of multiple sclerosis.

The hypothesis came from the realization that patients suffering from this disease may have problems with the optic nerve, which is why scientists decided to take another step and start a more exhaustive research.

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The studies focused on a sample of half a hundred people from the Portuguese province of Braga – where the university is – who have multiple sclerosis and many others who do not suffer from the disease.

Through the use of ophthalmic devices, it was proven that “reaction times between patients and healthy ones were quite significant,” said Paulo Alexandre Pereira.

It was thus corroborated that the reaction time to look at one side or the other was much greater in patients.

In this way, the scientists have proven their hypothesis and have been able to advance in one of the final objectives, which is the cheapness and the effectiveness of the diagnosis of this disease.

Currently, according to Pereira, the first diagnosis of multiple sclerosis is performed by means of an MRI, although in some cases “there may be confused with other diseases”, which does not make it reliable.
To supplement the examination, fluid is extracted from the spinal cord using a lumbar puncture.

“What we want to do, while we are still far away, is that family doctors may have devices similar to those of ophthalmologists to reliably diagnose multiple sclerosis,” he explained.

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On many occasions, the diagnosis is not easy and it takes a long time for you to discover the disease, something that would be solved with this test.

In addition, the family doctor could check the evolution of the disease in the patient and, thus, apply more appropriate treatments.

Although they have already reached an important phase of the research, Paulo Alexandre Pereira anticipated to Efe that the group of the University of Minho will continue investigating the movement of the eyes and will take another step on the diagnosis, since they will analyze – in a second phase – the perception that multiple sclerosis patients have the colors.

“For now, we do not know, but we believe that there is also a relationship between the perception of colors and the disease,” said the Portuguese scientist.

The multidisciplinary team that works in this project is formed by physicists, mathematicians, biologists and physicians Marisa Borges Ferreira, Paulo Alexandre Pereira, Marta Parreira, Inês Sousa, José Figueiredo, João Cerqueira, and António Filipe Macedo.

Multiple sclerosis, still uncured, is triggered by the combination of environmental, genetic and infectious factors.
Globally there are 2.3 million people with this disease and, on average, the diagnosis is usually made at 30 years of age.