Eye test developed in NI could help detect risk of heart disease

Declan Cunnane, CEO of Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke, and Professor Tara Moore unveiled details of the new research
Declan Cunnane, CEO of Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke, and Professor Tara Moore unveiled details of the new research
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A simple eye test could “revolutionise” the detection of the risk of heart conditions, research has found.

Researchers, funded by Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke (NICHS), have been working on a camera-based test looking at blood vessels at the front of the eye.

Trials have been carried out on 150 cardiac patients in Northern Ireland.

Currently 40% of deaths in Northern Ireland are caused by heart disease, NICHS said.

Professor Tara Moore from Ulster University said the test is less expensive than existing detection methods.

“Generally, it’s only possible to detect heart conditions or signs of malfunction through a series of hi-tech scans or invasive tests, all of which involve access to specialist clinicians in the NHS and associated costs,” she said.

“This simple eye test offers direct and inexpensive observations of small blood vessels at the front of the eye – this microcirculation represents the earliest site at which endothelial dysfunction can be observed, and we hope the technology we are developing will have the ability to raise concerns about cardiac health, based on the condition of these eye vessels.”

Researchers say the test could see screening for heart health included in a standard high street eye test.

The team says the test could also be developed so anyone could use it on their smartphones.

Prof Moore added: “Our eventual aim is to develop a medical technology capable of catching cardiovascular disease through early warning signs we can see in these small vessels in the eye.

“An important ambition for the team is to make this technology available to all, regardless of socio-economic status, location or age.”

The Eye as a Window research is being developed by Ulster University professors and medics at Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast.

NICHS chief executive Declan Cunnane welcomed the research, saying: “Professor Moore’s ambitions to further the prevention of heart disease through a widely available test falls in line with our organisation’s aims to inform people of heart disease risk factors, and ultimately fight the rising rates of heart disease in Northern Ireland.”

He added: “This research is funded by NI Chest, Heart and Stroke with significant help from Value Cabs to whom we are very grateful.

“We are committed to investing in improving the overall standard of health, care and support across Northern Ireland. As part of our five-year strategy, we have pledged to invest at least £2 million into high-quality research such as Eye as a Window by 2023 to enable a real impact for local people.”