The instrument, invented by scientists at University of Michigan, captures images of the eye to detect metabolic stress and tissue damage that occur before the first symptoms of diabetes are evident.
For people with diabetes -- diagnosed or not -- the new device could offer potentially significant advantages over blood glucose testing, the "gold standard" for diabetes detection.
The device takes a specialized photograph of the eye and is non-invasive, taking about five minutes to test both eyes.
In the July issue of Archives of Ophthalmology, scientists Victor Elner and Howard Petty report on the potential of the new instrument to screen for diabetes and determine its severity.
If further testing confirms the results to date, the new instrument may be useful for screening people who are at risk of diabetes but haven't been diagnosed.
"Our objective in performing this study was to determine whether we could detect abnormal metabolism in the retina of patients who might otherwise remain undiagnosed based on clinical examination alone," says Elner.
Metabolic stress, and therefore disease, can be detected by measuring the intensity of cellular fluorescence in retinal tissue. In a previous study, they reported that high levels of flavoprotein auto fluorescence (FA) act as a reliable indicator of eye disease.
In this new study, they measured the FA levels of 21 individuals who had diabetes and compared the results to age-matched healthy controls. They found that FA activity was significantly higher for those with diabetes, regardless of severity, compared to those who did not have the disease.
Given the increasing prevalence of diabetes, the FA device holds the potential to help address a leading and growing public health concern, said the authors.