A new eye test could help to save millions of lives by diagnosing heart disease early.
A pioneering study aims to determine whether a scan of blood vessels in the eye can identify signs of heart disease.
More than 1,000 patients with suspected heart disease are to be recruited into the study.
Patients will have high definition images taken of their retinas to check for indications – such as changes to blood vessel widths or unusually branched blood vessels – that may be linked to heart disease.
The study could find a way to identify whether a patient is at risk of heart disease, without the need to carry out invasive procedures such as biopsies or angiograms, where catheters are used to identify vessel and organ damage.
The study is led by the University of Edinburgh’s Clinical Research Imaging Centre (CRIC).
Researchers will use specialist equipment on loan from Optos – a Dunfermline-based eye care company. Optos is a global leader in designing and manufacturing ultra widefield, high resolution digital imaging equipment such as the optomap Scanning Laser Ophthalmoscope.
Roy Davis, Optos CEO said: “Optos is hugely proud to be working in partnership with The University of Edinburgh on this pioneering retinal scanning study.
“Our innovative eye health care technology has enormous potential for helping with the early diagnosis of various eye and other conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. While traditional eye examinations involve looking at the front of the eye and some parts of the retina to evaluate health and prescription changes, a thorough screening using an optomap scan allows eye professionals to view up to 82% of the retina, something no other device is capable of doing in any one image.”
The Optos study will also feed into a wider research project, involving more than 4,000 patients, to see whether CT scans are a more efficient, cost effective and less invasive alternative to current procedures to detect heart disease.
Also taking part in the research are the University of Dundee, NHS Lothian’s Princess Alexandra Eye Pavillion, NHS Tayside’s Ninewells Hospital and Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.
Dr Tom MacGillivray, a research fellow at the University of Edinburgh and Manager of the Image Analysis laboratory in CRIC, said: “We know that problems in the eye are linked to conditions such as diabetes and that abnormalities in the eye’s blood vessels can also indicate vascular problems in the brain.
“If we can identify early problems in the blood vessels in the eyes we might potentially pinpoint early signs of heart disease. This could help identify people who would benefit from early lifestyle changes and preventative therapies.”