Thursday, 18 July, 2019

Retinal health may help detect early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer Disease The Eyes Could Be The Window To Alzheimer's Disease, New Study Finds
Emmett Howard | 14 March, 2019, 15:33

While the test is still in the early phases of research, it could potentially help improve the selection of individuals for drug trials: "individuals with mild cognitive impairment who were predicted to have an abnormal concentration of amyloid in their spinal fluid were found to be 2.5 times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease", Ben Goudey, staff researcher, genomics research team, IBM research, wrote in a blog post.

When an eye doctor examines the back of your eye, they are literally looking at a part of your brain: your retina.

Eye specialists have shown elderly people with Alzheimer's have fewer of the microscopic blood vessels that usually form a web at the back of the eye. Even though there is now no cure, early diagnosis will allow researchers to study new medications earlier as future treatments may be more effective when given early. What was previously an unpleasant, drawn-out process could now be completed in a quick, routine eye exam.

An OCTA scan could even reveal the changes in tiny capillaries nearly less than half the width of a human hair, before the blood vessels changes are displayed on a brain scan such as an MRI or cerebral angiogram, which highlights only the larger blood vessels.

Tiny alterations in this small piece of tissue mirror those going on in the brain and are the first signs of dementia, say scientists.

However, in the eyes of 39 people with Alzheimer's disease, the web was less dense and even sparse in places.

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The study also found differences in the retinas of those with Alzheimer's disease compared to healthy people and to those with mild cognitive impairment which is often a precursor to Alzheimer's disease. A specific layer of the retina was also thinner. That finding spurred a new study of more than 200 people.

IBM also claims that amid the wide range of other proposed blood tests for Alzheimer's disease that are now being developed, this is the first study to use machine learning to identify sets of proteins in the blood that are predictive of a biomarker in spinal fluid.

Now diagnosing Alzheimer's is tricky, requiring an expensive brain scan, a risky spinal tap or in most cases a behavioural assessment by a doctor based on symptoms.

"Cognitively normal, healthy individuals do not have these changes in their retina", said Dr. Sharon Fekrat, the study's lead researcher Dr. Sharon Fekrat.

The scan of Virginia's eyes showed that she had significantly decreased blood vessel density in the retina.

She added: "We need to detect the disease earlier and introduce treatments earlier".

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