Scientists in Edinburgh, Scotland are attempting to find out if a simple eye test could help to identify heart disease and therefore prevent heart attacks.
The team, from the University of Edinburgh’s Clinical Research Imaging Centre (CRIC), will collect high definition images of the retinas of 1,000 patients with suspected heart disease.
By examining the eye scans they are hoping they will be able to spot a common sign of heart disease – changes to the appearance of blood vessels.
If the study proves to be successful, doctors have predicted the eye test, which takes just seconds to carry out, could save thousands of lives by preventing fatal heart attacks.
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It could also identify someone’s risk of heart disease without them having to undergo invasive tests or biopsies.
“We know that problems in the eye are linked to conditions such as diabetes and that abnormalities in the eyes’ blood vessels can also indicate vascular problems in the brain,” said Dr Tom MacGillivray, who’s in charge of the CRIC’s Image Analysis laboratory.
“If we can identify early problems in the blood vessels in the eyes we might potentially pinpoint signs of heart disease.
“This could help identify people who would benefit from early lifestyle changes and preventative therapies,” he added.
To obtain images of the patients’ eye the researchers will be using specialist eye scanning equipment from eye care company Optos.
Commenting on the study, Roy Davis, the CEO of Optos, said: “We are proud to be involved in this study.
“We believe our technology has huge potential for helping with the prompt diagnosis of eye conditions and other health problems.”
Although the study is being led by the team at the CRIC, they are also working with the University of Dundee, Moorfields Eye Hospital in London and two NHS centres – Lothian’s Princess Alexandra Eye Pavillion and Tayside’s Ninewells Hospital.