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DALL·E 2023-10-20 13.11.50 - Photo_ A close-up of a human eye reflecting the silhouette of

What is Oculomics?

A look at the science of using the eye as a window on the health of the body.

At Occuity, we’re using the eye as a 'window to the health of the body'. But what does that really mean? Well, fortunately, that slightly cumbersome phrase has been rather neatly packaged in a relatively new term - Oculomics.

Author: Dr Alistair Bounds

Senior Research Scientist & UKRI Future Leaders Fellow

Definition of Oculomics

Oculomics is the study of the association between ophthalmic biomarkers (changes or abnormalities in the eye) and systemic health or disease states. In other words, it's the idea that the eye can act as a window into the health of the whole body. This is because many diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, can cause changes in the eye that can be detected through imaging and measurement techniques.

Eyes close up

A Window To Your Health

The human eye has long been considered a window to the soul. But as science and technology progress, we are discovering that it can also serve as a window to the health of our body. Enter Oculomics, a term that originates from 'oculo-' meaning related to the eye, and '-omics' which implies a comprehensive study. In essence, oculomics refers to the practice of studying the eye to derive insights into the overall health and well-being of the body.

Oculomics, originates from 'oculo-' meaning related to the eye, and '-omics' which implies a comprehensive study.

The Origins of 'Oculomics'

The term Oculomics was first used in a scientific paper published in 2020. In this paper, entitled: “Insights into Systemic Disease through Retinal Imaging-Based Oculomics”, the authors proposed the idea that the eye could be used as a "window into the health of the whole body" by analysing changes in the eye that could be indicative of diseases or conditions elsewhere in the body. This idea was based on the fact that many diseases, such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease, cause changes in the eye that can then be detected through imaging techniques.

Historically, the idea of examining the eye for health insights isn't new. For centuries, physicians would inspect the eyes to identify symptoms of various ailments. However, with advancements in technology and understanding, the realm of oculomics has expanded beyond mere observation, diving deep into the molecular and genetic makeup of the eye to provide more accurate and detailed insights.

Close Up on Eyes

How does the eye allow us to study the health of the body?

The eyes transparency sets it apart

Unlike any other organ of the body, the eye is not covered by skin. Its transparency therefore sets it apart. Not only does it allow light to pass into it and grant us vision, it also offers a unique opportunity to observe the body's internal mechanisms directly - an insight not achievable elsewhere. The eye has links to various essential systems such as the nervous, vascular, immune, and metabolic systems, among others. There is  also a profound connection between the brain and the eye.

The Eye

The 'Science-y' Bit...

The connection between the eye and brain remains as the optic nerve

During embryonic development, the eyes develop as outpouchings from the brain. These outpouchings, called the optic vesicles, eventually form the retina and other parts of the eye. The connection between the eye and brain remains as the optic nerve, which transmits visual information from the retina to the brain. This developmental relationship is why the retina is often considered an extension of the central nervous system.

Ostensibly, this means that looking into the eye is akin to glimpsing a segment of the brain, revealing hints about its other parts. Amazingly, as the body is one big interconnected system, by observing the minute blood vessels present in the eye's retina, we could potentially use it to analyse their connection to other blood vessels elsewhere in the body and provide continuous indications about systemic functions.

Eyes close up
The Science

The benefits of oculomics:

A diagnostic and therapeutic revolution shift in healthcare

The complexity and richness of information within the eye make it an exceptional organ for diagnostic purposes. Some of the significant benefits of oculomics include:

  1. Non-invasive diagnostics: No one likes invasive tests. They can not only be painful but are often required to be performed by healthcare professionals. These create barriers to testing. As we have highlighted, the eye offers a unique, transparent medium through which we can observe and measure various biological markers without invasive procedures.

  2. Earlier disease detection: Diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and even neurodegenerative conditions can manifest initial symptoms in the eye. Oculomics can detect these early signs, potentially leading to more effective treatments and better patient outcomes. They will likely also prove to be much more cost-effective for healthcare systems. Prevention is better than cure, after all.

The Benefits

The future of oculomics:

A paradigm shift in healthcare

The potential of oculomics is vast, and its implications are transformative. Occuity is at the forefront of utilising the potential of oculomics and we’re working on an innovative technology platform that is being developed into a range of handheld optical devices that are, by definition, non-invasive. The research and development being undertaken by Occuity demonstrates how technological innovation, combined with the knowledge of oculomics, can pave the way for better healthcare solutions.

Here are some ways the future of healthcare is bound to be influenced by oculomics:


  1. Digital health integration: As more devices become capable of extracting and analysing the eye's valuable health data, we can expect seamless integration with digital health platforms. These will provide real-time data and analysis, offering patients and healthcare providers better monitoring capabilities. 

  2. An increased range of detectable diseases: While currently focused on specific conditions, ongoing research may soon make it possible for oculomics to detect a broader spectrum of diseases, from cardiovascular ailments to even psychiatric conditions. Analysis of the data, particularly using powerful AI platforms, could also unlock potential links between observations and diseases.

  3. Personalised medicine: Oculomics is a new and growing field that we are only just starting to unlock. It holds a great deal of potential. For example, by studying the genetic makeup present in the eye, it is possible to predict susceptibility to certain diseases and potentially customise treatment strategies based on individual profiles.

  4. Affordable and accessible care: Devices harnessing the power of oculomics are bound to become more affordable and ubiquitous. This could revolutionise healthcare in areas where advanced medical infrastructure is scarce.

Occuity and Oculomics:

Healthcare Challenges

At Occuity our research and development teams are paving the way for a world where diseases can be detected and treated more effectively, efficiently, and accessibly. We’re committed to advancing oculomic technology and are excited about the potential for this branch of healthcare to improve the lives of millions of people.

To read more about our work on Oculomics to create solutions to some of humanities greates healthcare challenges, please follow the links below: 

The Future

Occuity's Leaders in Oculomics

Dr. Alistair Bounds, PhD, Future Leaders Fellow

Alistair completed his PhD at Durham University in 2017 in atomic and optical physics, before moving into healthcare photonics and biomedical imaging systems as a postdoctoral researcher, first at Durham University and then at St Andrews University. He has worked closely with spin-outs and start-ups for the last five years, developing new biomedical imaging techniques and patented dental imaging technologies. Alistair moved into healthcare photonics, and towards industry-partnered research, out of a desire for more impact-focused research to improve quality of life. - Read more | Watch Interview

Dr. Emily J. Paterson, PhD

Emily initially trained as an experimental psychologist at the University of Warwick and later went on to a PhD in Optometry and Visual Science at City University, with her thesis focusing on the effects of intraocular scattered light on vision. Continuing her time in academia she then worked as a postdoctoral researcher in a retinal imaging lab at the Medical College of Wisconsin to study adaptive optics. After five years in the US, Emily then returned to the UK to work at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology on a condition called Blue Cone Monochromacy, where she secured a grant to work on Diabetic Retinopathy. - Read more

Our Team

The work we are doing at Occuity is hugely exciting, presenting the opportunity to deliver a step-change over the next decade in optometry practice and the way chronic diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s are detected and managed.

Daniele De Iuliis, Design Director

Daniele Image.jpg
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