From Small Grant Award to groundbreaking findings in Parkinson’s Disease

22 August 23

written by:

Sarah Kidner

(more articles)

Exciting new research has shown that eye scans can detect neurodegenerative diseases up to seven years earlier than current techniques can!

It’s been an exciting week in eye research with the announcement of groundbreaking findings that eye scans can detect Parkinson’s disease up to seven years before diagnosis.

Published in the journal Neurology, the findings have garnered much media attention, given they show the power of the eye as a window to the rest of the body, a field termed ‘oculomics’.  

The research team, led by Dr Siegfried Wagner and Professor Pearse Keane of Moorfield’s Eye Hospital and University College London (UCL) Institute of Ophthalmology, performed automated analysis of  Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) scans of the back of the eye from two datasets - AlzEye and UK Biobank - to look for signs of the disease.

In the latest study, the research team built on work from its AlzEye Small Grant Award jointly funded by Fight for Sight and Alzheimer’s Research UK in 2017. AlzEye is a cohort of 154,830 patients aged 40 years and over attending secondary care ophthalmic hospitals in London between 2008 and 2018. 

The original grant and subsequent follow-on studies have already shown that signs of other diseases, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia, can be detected through eye scans offering promise for the future of earlier detection of diseases. 

Siegfried Wagner, clinical research fellow at Moorfields Eye Hospital, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology researcher and principal investigator for this and several other AlzEye studies, added: “I continue to be amazed by what we can discover through eye scans. While we are not yet ready to predict whether an individual will develop Parkinson’s, we hope that this method could soon become a pre-screening tool for people at risk of disease. Finding signs of a number of diseases before symptoms emerge means that, in the future, people could have the time to make lifestyle changes to prevent some conditions [from] arising, and clinicians could delay the onset and impact of life-changing neurodegenerative disorders.” 

“"We hope that this method could soon become a pre-screening tool for people at risk of disease."”

Speaking to ITV News, Professor Keane said, "It has the potential to bring world-class expertise out of specialised centres, such as Moorfields Eye Hospital, into the community and potentially into the homes of patients in the future. That could have massive implications for public health”.   


None of these findings would have been possible without collaboration. This includes INSIGHT- the Health Data Research Hub for Eye Health, which is focused on improving healthcare for the benefit of patients by enabling safe and trusted research access to anonymised data.  

This study involved research teams from multiple centres, including five National Institute of Health and Care Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centres (BRCs), showing the advantages of this important research infrastructure: 

Power of Small Grant Awards 

Fight for Sight Small Grant Awards are intended to be used to collect preliminary/pilot data to make research ideas more competitive when developing larger follow-on funding applications.  

Dr Madina Kara, Director of Research and Innovation at Fight for Sight, said, “The latest findings, published this week, show what an impact that initial investment in research can result in. We look forward to working with the INSIGHT team and the wider research community to build on this important field of oculomics to support prevention, detection and enhance treatments of disease in the future”.  

As Professor Keane has told us, “Fight for Sight was the crucial seed for all this work (and the best is yet to come!)”. 

Read more about our Small Grant Awards aiming to make a big impact 

Our latest Small Grant Award round is currently open for applications. Find out more here.

To learn more about groundbreaking scientific research, listen to our podcast, Eye Research Matters, here.