Eye scans could in the future be used to calculate your risk of dying, researchers have suggested.
Academics claim the retina acts as a ‘window’ in allowing doctors to take a deeper look at someone’s health.
And Australian scientists have now linked a bigger ‘retinal age gap’ to a heightened risk of death.
The gap is the difference between someone’s chronological age and the estimated biological age of their retina.
The latter can be calculated by an AI programme that analyses images taken of the fundus, the internal back surface of the eye. Some high street opticians offer these scans.
People with gaps of a decade were up to 67 per cent more likely to die, according to Australian experts who tracked volunteers for 11 years.
Academics calculated there was a 2 per cent increased risk of death for every year of gap.
Experts analysed retina scans taken from 36,000 Britons, they found those with retinas older than their biological age were at increased risk of death. Each one year gap between a person’s retina age and their biological age was associated with a 2 per cent increased risk of death
What is the retina?
The retina is a layer of cells at the back of the eyeball opposite the pupil.
It is responsible for converting light which enters the eye into chemical messages.
These chemical messages are sent to the brain and interpreted as the images that form our sense of sight.
Previous studies have suggesting that taking scans of the retina is a good way to detect heart disease.
This is because poor circulation, a possible early indicator of heart disease, can cause parts of the retina to die, leaving a permanent mark.
Optometrists frequently look at the retinas of both eyes during a standard eye test looking for signs of other health problems.
Deeper and more specialised image scans of retinas are available at some UK optometrists but these are sometimes not included in a standard eye test.
Academics at Melbourne’s Centre for Eye Research taught an artificial intelligence algorithm to predict retinal age by giving it almost 19,000 fundus scans.
The programme’s estimates were found to be accurate, coming within three-and-a-half years of someone’s actual age, on average.
The team then assessed the retinal age gap of 36,000 participants plucked from the UK Biobank.
More than half had retinas thought to be at least three years older than their actual biological age.
Some had retinas a decade older, according to the research published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.
They then paired this up with health data from the participants, over an average of 11 years, allowing them to link causes of death with their retinal age gap.
During this time, 1,800 (5 per cent) of the participants died. The majority were killed by cancer, dementia or heart disease.
Large retinal age aps were associated with between a 49-67 per cent higher risk of death from causes other than heart disease or cancer.
Researchers also applied a similar study using images of retinas taken from the left-eye, producing similar results.
Dr Lisa Zhuoting Zhu, one of the authors, said: ‘These findings suggest that retinal age may be a clinically significant biomarker of ageing.
‘The retina offers a unique, accessible “window” to evaluate underlying pathological processes of systemic vascular and neurological diseases that are associated with increased risks of mortality.
‘This hypothesis is supported by previous studies, which have suggested that retinal imaging contains information about cardiovascular risk factors, chronic kidney diseases, and systemic biomarkers.’
Scans of the retina, the light sensitive layers of nerve tissue at the back of the eye, has previously been used to detect some of the warning signs of cardiovascular disease.
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