Eye exam could soon detect Alzheimer's, new study suggests

Faith Castro
March 14, 2019

Researchers say they plan to study people who have a genetic risk for Alzheimer's but don't have symptoms to see they may be able to predict the development of the disease. An OCTA scan can even 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 such as an MRI or cerebral angiogram, which highlight only larger blood vessels.

Grewal and his colleagues used OCTA to peer into the eyes of 39 Alzheimer's patients, 37 people with MCI and 133 cognitively healthy people, the controls. They found that the density of blood vessels was less, and thickness of one particular layer of the retina was thinner among people with a known diagnosis of Alzheimer's, compared to the other groups.

In the past, some small studies have suggested that there would be differences "in both neuronal and microvascular retinal measures between those with and those without Alzheimer's disease", said Alison Abraham, an associate professor of ophthalmology and director of the Wilmer Eye Institute Biostatistics Center at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Standard optical equipment is not now strong enough to detect the vessels, which are about half the width of a strand of hair, but they did have success using a non-invasive technology called optical coherence demography and geography. But the findings by Duke researchers could mean there may soon be an easier - and more cost-effective - way to detect and diagnose Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's is a progressive disease, with symptoms including gradual degradation of memory, confusion, and dementia, which can make many everyday tasks increasingly problematic. These concentrations in the spinal fluid have been found to increase the chances that the disease progresses by 2.5 times.

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Dr Fekrat said: 'Our work is not done.

Prof Fekrat said: "Early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is a huge unmet need".

Researchers obtained data from study participants by using optical coherence tomography angiography, a non-invasive scan that can pick up on blood flow in the retina. "It's not possible for current techniques like a brain scan or lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to screen the number of patients with this disease".

In the USA alone, 5.8 million people are living with Alzheimer's dementia, according to 2019 data from the Alzheimer's Association.

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