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Archive - Sep 9, 2017

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Retina Changes May Signal Frontotemporal Lobe Degeneration; Rapid, Non-Invasive Test May Help in Diagnosis of FTD

Frontotemporal degeneration (FTD) is a progressive neurodegenerative condition that is present in tens of thousands of Americans, but is often difficult to diagnose accurately. Now, in a study published online on September 8, 2017 in Neurology, researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania have found evidence that a simple eye exam and retinal imaging test may help improve that accuracy. The article is titled “Optical Coherence Tomography Identifies Outer Retina Thinning in Frontotemporal Degeneration.” Using an inexpensive, non-invasive, eye-imaging technique, the Penn Medicine scientists found that patients with FTD showed thinning of the outer retina--the layers with the photoreceptors through which we see--compared to control subjects. The retina is potentially affected by neurodegenerative disorders because it is a projection of the brain. Prior studies have suggested that patients with Alzheimer's disease and ALS may also have thinning of the retina--although a different part of the retina. Thus, imaging the retina may help doctors confirm or rule out FTD. "Our finding of outer retina thinning in this carefully designed study suggests that specific brain pathologies may be mirrored by specific retinal abnormalities, said study lead author Benjamin J. Kim, MD, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at Penn's Scheie Eye Institute. Neurodegenerative diseases in general are challenging to diagnose, and often are confirmed only by direct examination of brain tissue at autopsy. Now that science appears to be on the brink of developing effective treatments for these diseases, the need for better diagnostic methods is becoming acute.