Eye test could spot Alzheimer's earlier

13 Mars, 2019, 03:23 | Auteur: Yves Courtet
  • Alzheimer Disease

The team found that there were tell-tale signs of changes in the retinal blood vessels among those who have a mild cognitive impairment, a known precursor for Alzheimer's disease.

Soon, an eye examination may be all that is needed to confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, according to researchers at Duke's Health.

The test, which examines microscopic blood vessels at the back of the eye, has the potential to spot the disease decades before clinical symptoms appear, experts said after new trials showed promising results. More than 500,000 people in Britain suffer from Alzheimer's and the total is rising, but most are diagnosed too late to do anything about it.

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"We know that there are changes that occur in the brain in the small blood vessels in people with Alzheimer's disease, and because the retina is an extension of the brain, we wanted to investigate whether these changes could be detected in the retina using a new technology that is less invasive and easy to obtain", said Dilraj S. Grewal, M.D., a Duke ophthalmologist and retinal surgeon and a lead author on the study. Their study was published online today in Ophthalmology Retina, a journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. The technology, called an OCTA scan, used to review the eye, even picks up on the blood flow of tiny capillaries smaller than the width of half a human hair. After controlling for other factors, the researchers found this change to be statistically significant.

The blood vessel changes were noted in the eyes of 39 Alzheimer's patients as part of a study involving 133 people in a control group. Such techniques to study the brain are invasive and costly. 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. It is possible that these changes in blood vessel density in the retina may mirror what's going on in the tiny blood vessels in the brain.

With almost 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer's disease and no viable treatments or noninvasive tools for early diagnosis, its burden on families and the economy is heavy. "If we can detect these blood vessel changes in the retina before any changes in cognition, that would be a game changer".

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