Eye scans could be used to detect Alzheimer’s disease, according to new research presented at Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen today. Researchers presented results from two small studies describing different techniques to detect beta amyloid, one of the hallmark proteins of Alzheimer’s disease, in the eyes and found that beta amyloid levels in the eye strongly correlate to levels in the brain.
Scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia presented early results based on the first 40 participants in their study of 200 people. Using a proprietary imaging agent based on a chemical in turmeric – Curcumin fluorescence imaging – the researchers were able to measure levels of amyloid in the retina of the eye. A separate study from medical technology company Cognoptix Inc used a novel imaging technique called Flourescent Ligand Eye Scanning to measure beta amyloid in the eye lens of 40 participants, 20 of whom with probable Alzheimer’s and 20 healthy volunteers.
In both studies, PET scans to measure levels of amyloid in the brains of participants suggested there were significant correlations between levels in the brain and eye, suggesting that either technique has the potential to support Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis in the future.
In addition cataract surgery can benefit people with dementia’s ability to recall memories as well as vision according to research presented today at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen.
The trial at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, United States involved 20 people with dementia who underwent surgery and eight who did not. The researchers found that those in the surgical group had reduced cognitive decline, improved mood and ability to undertake everyday tasks compared with the non-surgical group.
Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer’s Society, said:
‘Finding new and better ways to detect the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease could be a game changer for both future research and for people who will develop the condition. These studies provide proof of principle that scanning the eye for amyloid could give us insight about what is going on in the brain. However as they are only preliminary studies, the eye scans will need further validation before they could be used on people with dementia.
‘This small study suggests that cataract surgery may benefit people with dementia beyond just improving their vision. All too often people don’t see the value of surgery for someone with a progressive health condition, like dementia. Even though we need to see this replicated in larger trials, this study highlights how important it is to re-consider this approach, as it could improve the quality of life of people with dementia. 800,000 people in the UK have dementia. Research such as this is vitally important to help enable people to live well with the condition.’
We know that the damage caused by Alzheimer’s begins decades before symptoms appear, so in addition to improving diagnosis we need more research to find ways to stop it developing in the first place. One in three people over 65 will develop dementia so finding answers is one of the most important tasks facing science today.’
Shaun Frost, CSIRO, et al. Retinal amyloid fluorescence imaging predicts cerebral amyloid burden and Alzheimer’s disease; Paul D Hartung, Cognoptix Inc., et al. Detection of ligand bound to beta amyloid in the lenses of human eyes. Both presented at Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Sunday 13 July 2014.
Alan J. Lerner, M.D. et al. presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen on 13 July 2014