London: British scientists are devising a new eye test which they say could help in the early detection of deadly heart disease.
The test takes high-definition digital images of retinas of patients to check for telltale signs of heart disease such as changes to blood vessel width or unusually branched blood vessels.
The 30-second cheap and easy-to-use scan could spare heart patients the ordeal of lengthy and invasive procedures, says a team at the University of Edinburgh.
Imaging expert Dr Tom MacGillivray, who is leading the research team developing the idea, said: "The eyes provide a unique window into the patient`s blood supply and the effect it has on the human system.
"By examining blood vessels closely we are aiming to detect abnormalities, spot signs of heart disease and then act accordingly. It`s about prevention rather than cure but could potentially affect millions."
In their research, the scientists are currently testing 1,000 patients with suspected heart disease as part of the three-year research, the first of its kind in the world, in collaboration with experts from Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, the University of Dundee and Ninewells Hospital.
They are particularly interested in subtle changes to blood vessels which are not obvious to a human visually inspecting an image.
Once a picture has been taken, experts can use complex computer image processing to identify the blood vessels and spot subtle changes. A specialist would then make a diagnosis and an individual would be given a programme to help them reach better health before any heart problems develop.
Dr MacGillivray said: "It is hoped this procedure will catch people early on and act as an opportunity for them to change their lifestyle before it`s too late.
"We are really excited by this project. 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.
"If we can identify early problems in the blood vessels we might potentially pinpoint signs of heart disease. This could help identify people who would benefit from preventative therapies."