Research has found that our eyes may provide early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.A joint study by Cedars-Sinai and NeuroVision LLC showed that retinal imaging could detect the condition.
Dementia symptoms usually include memory loss and confusion, however studying the eyes could also reveal early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Retinal imaging is where the retina – the layer at the back of the eye sensitive to light – is scanned for beta amyloid protein deposits that can also be found in the brain.
In the brain, these deposits accumulate and are one of the hallmarks of the disease.
The new imaging system is non-invasive, unlike current screening options – such as positron emission tomography, or PET scans – which are invasive, as well as inconvenient and costly.
“This is the first study demonstrating the potential to image and quantify retinal findings related to beta-amyloid plaques non-invasively in living patients using a retinal scan with high resolution,” said Maya Koronyo-Hamaoui, a research scientist at Cedars-Sinai, and a co-founder at NeuroVision.
“This clinical trial is reinforced by an in-depth exploration of the accumulation of beta-amyloid in the retina of Alzheimer’s patients versus matched controls, and a comparison analysis between retina and brain pathologies.
“Findings from this study strongly suggest that retinal imaging can serve as a surrogate biomarker to investigate and monitor Alzheimer’s disease.”
Eyes are only beginning to be used as a way to detect or monitor the progression of Alzheimer’s.
“As a developmental outgrowth of the central nervous system that shares many of the brain’s characteristics, the retina may offer a unique opportunity for us to easily and conveniently detect and monitor Alzheimer’s disease,” said Keith L. Black, chairman of NeuroVision and researcher at Cedars-Sinai.
“We know that Alzheimer’s begins as many as 10 or 20 years before cognitive decline becomes evident, and we believe that potential treatments may be more effective if they can be started early in the process.
“Therefore, screening and early detection may be crucial to our efforts to turn the tide against the growing threat of this devastating disease.”
The latest findings follow research by the same team in 2010 that discovered the existence of Alzheimer’s-specific plaques in the human retina.
They confirmed this new knowledge in human clinical trials.
In the new study, the researchers found a 4.7-fold increase in retinal plaque in patients with Alzheimer’s.
They hope that this could lead to a practical approach for large-scale identification and monitoring of Alzheimer’s.