Oculomics tracks healthspan through eye-related biomarkers, offering non-invasive insights into overall health and aging.

Ocular biomarkers, according to Dr. Emily Patterson of Occuity, hold promise for assessing health and aging outcomes, offering insights into conditions like cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases and contributing to interventions for improved healthspan.

1/16/20243 min read

The ancient practice of "crystallomancy," using a crystal ball to predict the future, dates back to Ancient Rome. While Pagans still engage in the art of "scrying" today, modern tools have transformed this ancient tradition. Instead of relying on a crystal ball, scientists now utilize the eye to predict not just one's future but, more specifically, their longevity.

Modern "crystallomancy," known as "oculomics," involves analyzing ocular biomarkers to discern systemic health and predict diseases. Oculomics holds a crucial advantage over traditional crystallomancy as it is firmly grounded in science. The eye shares many biological features with other systems in the body, including:

  1. Aqueous and vitreous humor – derived from plasma, facilitating the transport of lipid-soluble and water-soluble substances.

  2. Lens – continuously growing, containing molecules that accumulate over a lifetime, providing a map of molecular history.

  3. Retinal vasculature and choroid – the blood-retina barrier, akin to the blood-brain barrier, allows direct visualization of microvasculature.

  4. Optic nerve and ganglion cells – the neurosensory retina, an extension of the brain, enables direct visualization of the nervous system.

Oculomics relies on optical techniques for biometric measurements or imaging of eye structures. These techniques often integrate artificial intelligence (AI) tools for analyzing extensive datasets. A key focus of oculomics research is predicting biological age, a measure of overall bodily function, as opposed to chronological age, the number of years one has been alive. Given age is a significant risk factor for prevalent chronic diseases like cardiovascular, neurological, metabolic diseases, and cancer – all impacting longevity – estimating biological age through oculomics could serve as a "wake-up call," prompting lifestyle adjustments for enhanced longevity.

As age advances from the front to the back of the eye, various structures are affected. Cataracts in the crystalline lens, prevalent in one in three people over 65, are a notable age-related issue. Beyond being a treatable ailment through outpatient cataract surgery, it can signify age-related diseases like sarcopenia and Alzheimer's, influencing both lifespan and healthspan. Comprising 60% protein, the lens accumulates harmful proteins, exemplified by Advanced Glycation End-Products (AGEs), associated with diabetes risk. Oculomics, utilizing natural fluorescence of AGEs, offers a potential non-invasive method to assess diabetes risk. Dr. Alistair Bounds, Senior Research Scientist at Occuity, emphasizes oculomics' promise in providing unprecedented ease for clinicians to gain insights into critical disease biomarkers by understanding molecular presence and accumulation in the human body.

The crystalline lens offers a historical perspective on the eye, while the aqueous and vitreous humors present a current snapshot. Derived from blood plasma, these humors facilitate the transport of lipid-soluble and water-soluble substances, offering potential insights into present blood-glucose levels. Oculomics could be applied to assess the aqueous humor's properties, providing a non-invasive means to monitor blood-glucose levels. Dr. Dan Daly, Founder and CEO at Occuity, emphasizes the medieval nature of current needle-based glucose monitoring for diabetes, contrasting it with the non-invasive accessibility of the same data through optical systems in the eye.

Transitioning from the anterior to the posterior segment of the eye, the future comes into focus. Integrating oculomics with AI tools allows the prediction of biological age through retinal biomarkers like retinal vasculature, correlating this with the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. High-resolution imaging facilitates direct visualization of retinal neural layers, providing insights into neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and rare conditions like Lafora disease. Oculomic signs often manifest before symptoms, aiding early identification for potential interventions and drug development in clinical research, addressing issues before irreversible damage occurs.

With the progress in imaging technology, biomarkers can now be detected at cellular resolution. The constant discovery of new applications for imaging techniques allows the detection of diseases before they take root, providing opportunities for intervention and potential disease prevention. It's an exciting era for oculomics research!

Looking ahead, crystallomancy has evolved significantly since Ancient Roman times. One may wonder if past scryers could have predicted the transformation of orb-gazing from a mystical art to a rigorous science. Oculomics not only allows us to explore the past and present but also has the potential to glimpse into the future, offering an opportunity to alter one's "fate." While the exact form of advancements in imaging and AI tools remains uncertain in the coming years, one certainty is that oculomics holds a promising future in the pursuit of longevity.

Phuong B. Le, MD

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