The new vision-screening device developed by scientists Victor M. Elner, M.D., Ph.D., and Howard R. Petty, Ph.D from University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Centre helps in measuring metabolic stress in retina.
The device takes a specialized photograph of the eye and is non-invasive, taking about five minutes to test both eyes.
"Our objective in performing this study was to determine whether we could detect abnormal metabolism in the retina of patients who might otherwise remain undiagnosed based on clinical examination alone," said Elner, professor, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at U-M Medical School.
In the previous study, Petty and Elner had revealed that high levels of flavoprotein autofluorescence (FA) act as a reliable indicator of eye disease.
Metabolic stress, and therefore disease, can be detected by measuring the intensity of cellular fluorescence in retinal tissue.
In the present study, the researchers measured the FA levels of 21 individuals who had diabetes and compared the results to age-matched healthy controls.
They found that FA activity was significantly higher for those with diabetes, regardless of severity, compared to those who did not have the disease.
Out of 21 participants, 12 were known to have diabetic retinopathy, a disease in which blood vessels in the eye are damaged.
The individuals with diabetic retinopathy in at least one eye had significantly greater FA activity than people with diabetes who do not have any visible eye disease.
"The abnormal readings indicated that it may be possible to use this method to monitor the severity of the disease," said Elner.
"Increased FA activity is the earliest indicator that cell death has occurred and tissue is beginning to break down," said Petty, professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, and professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the U-M Medical School.
"FA serves as a 'spectral-biomarker' for metabolism gone awry, and we can use the results to detect and monitor disease," he added.
Petty also said that unlike glucose monitoring, elevation of FA levels reflects ongoing tissue damage, which could motivate patients to intensify their efforts to manage the disease.
The researchers believe that the device has great potential as a tool for diabetes screening and management.
The study appears in the July issue of Archives of Ophthalmology.