This story is part of a series on the current progression in Regenerative Medicine. This piece is part of a series dedicated to the eye and improvements in restoring vision. 


In 1999, I defined regenerative medicine as the collection of interventions that restore tissues and organs damaged by disease, injured by trauma, or worn by time to normal function. I include a full spectrum of chemical, gene, and protein-based medicines, cell-based therapies, and biomechanical interventions that achieve that goal.


Our eyes are one of the most remarkable organs in our body, serving as the windows to our souls and providing a wealth of information about our overall health. Recent scientific research has demonstrated that the eyes can reveal signs of various diseases, including cardiovascular disease.


Cardiovascular disease is a severe and prevalent health condition worldwide that can lead to death if not detected early. Fortunately, our eyes can provide valuable insights into the disease. By closely examining the eyes, doctors can identify several indications of cardiovascular disease, and early detection can lead to timely intervention and better patient outcomes.


An Interbody Link


The human eyes are an incredible organ linked to different body parts through a complex network of veins, arteries, and nerves. These connections allow the eyes to provide valuable information about the body’s overall health. For instance, the eyes can display symptoms of diseases affecting other parts of the body, making them an essential tool for diagnosis.


The eyes are connected to various body organs, such as the skin, joints, and gastrointestinal system. Through this interbody link, the eyes can show signs of diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer. For example, high blood pressure can cause changes to the blood vessels in the eyes, leading to blurry vision or even blindness. Similarly, diabetes can cause damage to the tiny blood vessels in the retina, leading to vision loss.


The Eyes as a Screening Tool


With advances in retinal imaging, it is now possible to detect diseases in other body parts by examining the eyes. This is because the eyes contain a wealth of information about the body’s health. Retinal imaging can help to detect signs of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis. It can also aid in early heart disease, stroke, and cancer detection.


Retinal imaging is an affordable and non-invasive method that captures accurate and detailed retina images – the thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye responsible for converting light into neural signals. These images can provide valuable information about the health of the eyes and the body. 


Researchers are developing systems that can automatically scan retinal photos for signs of various diseases, including cardiovascular disease. Using machine learning algorithms, these systems can learn from vast datasets of retinal images with known disease outcomes and identify subtle patterns or abnormalities that may indicate disease. 


Studies have shown that this approach has yielded promising results. If successful, it can significantly improve the efficiency and accuracy of retinal screening, leading to earlier disease detection and better patient outcomes, particularly in the case of cardiovascular diseases.


Seeing Your Heart Health


When it comes to the eyes, several signs may indicate the presence of cardiovascular disease. One of these symptoms is double vision or diplopia. This means a person sees two images of a single object instead of one. Double vision can occur in one or both eyes and be constant or intermittent. It may also be accompanied by other symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and difficulty with balance and coordination. 


Another indicator is a yellowish ring around the cornea, an arcus senilis. This ring is usually seen in older adults. Still, when present in younger people, it may suggest high cholesterol levels, which can increase the risk of heart disease.


High blood pressure is another sign of cardiovascular disease, and it can cause damage to the blood vessels in the retina. This can result in changes such as narrowing or ballooning. Individuals with cholesterol deposits in or around their eyes are at an increased risk of stroke and heart attack. Moreover, high blood pressure can cause changes in the blood vessels in the retina, leading to the appearance of narrowed, thickened, or even ruptured blood vessels. These changes can be detected through an eye exam and may signal an increased risk of stroke or heart attack.


Retinal vein occlusion is an eye condition that affects the veins in the retina. This condition is often associated with vascular disease. It occurs when blood flow through the retinal veins is blocked, causing swelling and bleeding in the eye. Retinal vein occlusion is a severe manifestation of vascular disease. It can be an indicator of significant atherosclerosis in the body. Those with this condition are at a higher risk of developing other cardiovascular problems, such as heart attack or stroke.


It has been found that age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is a common cause of vision loss for older adults, is linked to cardiovascular disease and stroke. A study by Mount Sinai revealed that patients with cardiovascular disease were three times more likely to suffer from a specific type of AMD, which indicates a close relationship between these two disorders. 


Moreover, the appearance of small, yellowish deposits, called drusen, in the retina could also indicate cardiovascular disease. These deposits can cause impaired vision and are commonly seen in individuals with age-related macular degeneration, which has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.


The Eye is a Diagnostic Dream


In summary, as the field of retinal imaging and artificial intelligence continues to advance, the eyes’ diagnostic capabilities are expected to expand as a non-invasive and easily accessible tool for screening and early detection of a wide range of diseases, including cardiovascular diseases.