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Eye Test Can Help Predict Risk For Diabetes

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- There's a new, non-invasive way to test for diabetes and it can actually predict who might be at greater risk of getting it.

To check how your body handles sugar, or glucose, we have blood tests to check after a sugary drink, and blood tests to check a three month span, and finger sticks to check moment to moment.

Now there are tests to check without piercing your skin, and it can give you information about blood sugar over your whole lifetime, all by shining certain wavelengths of light through the lens of your eye.

"That lens from the time we're born, is crystal clear," said Dr. Tim Corcoran, of the Eger Eye Group. "Over time, we found that those byproducts of cellular activity can be glucose."

These byproducts stick to proteins in the lens and elsewhere, and are thought to cause the complications of diabetes.

One local optometry office has been offering the non-invasive, FDA-approved test to its patients for a year and a half now, one of the few practices in the area.

It's $20 and not covered by insurance, but it can change a patient's awareness of their own risk.

"He told me his brother and his sister are both diabetics, he hasn't been to the doctor in a very long time. He was a little bit afraid to go to the doctor; he was a little bit overweight. We did the Clearpath on him, and found the levels were predictive of diabetic change," said Dr. Corcoran. "And so it just edged him off to the doctor a little bit faster."

Dr. Michael Farrell, a primary care doctor, has not received any reports of this type, but the idea of this additional information appeals to him.

"That could be useful because our ability to judge exposure over time, or injury over time, is limited," said Dr. Farrell, of Allegheny General Hospital Internal Medicine.

The usual way of detecting damage caused by diabetes is by looking at the back of the eye for damaged blood vessels, a late finding.

"The problem is when we see diabetics for the first time, they've often had it for five to 10 years, and they can already have complications," said Dr. Wayne Evron, of St. Clair Hospital endocrinology.

This diabetes specialist says the lens measurements correlate well with the three-month blood test.

"By using this technique, supposedly, you can pick up diabetes a lot earlier than blood tests," said Dr. Evron. "It's certainly an improvement over what we have now."

One problem, it's predictive, not diagnostic, and not everyone receives the news of a high reading the same way.

"We're not 100 percent certain these people are going to develop diabetes," said Dr. Evron. "Certain people when they hear this, they're not too happy about it, and you have to really counsel people that they don't have diabetes. We're trying to prevent diabetes."

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