Published: Thu, March 14, 2019
Medical | By Vicki Mclaughlin

Eye scan may detect early signs of Alzheimer's

Eye scan may detect early signs of Alzheimer's

However, a new study suggests that one day, an eye test may be able to indicate the presence of the disease. The scientists believe the same thing is happening in the brain, with blood vessels disappearing as Alzheimer's take hold.

Three biomarkers that indicate Alzheimer's disease and mild cognitive impairment have been identified by researchers from the University of Alberta, findings which may be groundbreaking if proven worthy of use in clinical settings. This latest research is the largest study to date and adds to the current literature as scientists strive to find a quick, noninvasive, and cheap way to detect Alzheimer's at the earliest stages.

The eye scan used in the study could reveal changes in tiny capillaries, most less than half the width of a human hair, before blood vessel changes show up on a brain scan, according to the study.

"While a wide range of other proposed blood tests for Alzheimer's disease are being developed, this is the first study to use a machine learning approach to identify sets of proteins in blood that are predictive of a biomarker in spinal fluid", notes the researcher for IBM's genomics research team.

In people with healthy brains, microscopic blood vessels form a dense web at the back of the eye inside the retina, as seen in 133 participants in a control group, according to the study of more than 200 people at the Duke Eye Center.

The differences seen were statistically significant after adjusting for factors such as age, sex and education.

This correlation could mean big things for the future of Alzheimer's diagnoses. Some techniques can detect signs of the disease but are impractical for screening millions of people: Brain scans are expensive and spinal taps have risks.

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Instead, the disease is often diagnosed through memory tests or observing behavioural changes - by which time it's advanced.

Citing a previous research, Goudey said: "Examining the concentration of the peptide in an individual's spinal fluid provides an indication of risk decades before any memory related issues occur. It will be many years before it goes into prime time", Dr. Fekrat said.

Now the only ways to definitively diagnose Alzheimer's are through expensive brain scans or by taking a fluid sample from the patient's spinal cord.

The researchers said that loss of blood vessels in retina would reflect changes in the brain, be it for both healthy people or Alzheimer's patients. Our work is not done. "Therefore we are able to detect much smaller levels of change".

This story has been published on: 2019-03-11.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the world's largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. We innovate to advance our profession and to ensure the delivery of the highest-quality eye care. To contact the author, please use the contact details within the article.

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