Retinal Device May Help Improve Diagnosis of Schizophrenia

June 6, 2018

A portable device which records electrical activity from the retina may help improve the diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of schizophrenia, researchers say.

A Rutgers University study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, used the RETeval device to compare the electrical activity in the retinas of 25 people with schizophrenia and 25 people with no diagnosed psychiatric disorder. Prior studies have shown that people with schizophrenia have abnormal electrical activity in the retina.

Electrical activity was recorded using a tiny skin electrode under the eye while participants looked at flashing lights in varying conditions. Most tests took less than 2 minutes.

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The device “accurately indicated reduced electrical activity in the retina in multiple cell layers in the participants who had schizophrenia, including in cell types that had not been studied before in this disorder,” Rutgers reported in a press release.

     Docia Demmin (left) and Steven Silverstein, PhD,
     demonstrate the handheld RETeval device.
     Credit: Nick Romanenko / Rutgers University

Lead author Docia Demmin, a graduate assistant in the Division of Schizophrenia Research at Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care (UBHC), cautioned it is too soon to call the device a diagnostic tool.

“However, since every prior study has found that people with schizophrenia exhibit reduced retinal wave forms and slowed retinal responses, our research shows that we closing in on an accurate test that is faster, less invasive, inexpensive and more accessible to patients,” said Demmin, who is also a doctoral student in the Rutgers Department of Psychology.

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Study designer Steven Silverstein, PhD, professor of psychiatry at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and director of research at Rutgers UBHC, said he and other researchers are investigating whether changes in the retina are connected with the changes in brain structure and function found in schizophrenia.

“Since the retina is part of the nervous system, what is happening in the retina is likely reflective of what is occurring in the brain,” Silverstein said.

—Terri Airov


Promise of faster, more accessible schizophrenia diagnosis, Rutgers study shows [press release]. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University; May 30, 2018.