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Eye exam detects signs of Alzheimer's disease
14 March 2019, 08:10 | Silvia Roy
Alzheimer's in focus - how a simple eye test can predict onset of disease
The new research raises the prospect of opticians with access to the technology checking brain health at the same time as they update spectacle prescriptions.
According to a group of researchers at Duke University Medical Center, a loss of blood vessels in the retina could identify the difference between a cognitively healthy adult and one with signs of a neurodegenerative disease, like Alzheimer's. In addition, a specific layer of the retina was thinner in those with Alzheimer's.
The findings are published in the journal Ophthalmology Regina.
"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.
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.
The test involved a machine that performed optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA), a non-invasive procedure that only takes a few minutes.
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Potentially the test could spot warning signs of Alzheimer's before vascular abnormalities show up on brain scans, which can only highlight larger blood vessels, she added. "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".
"It's possible these changes in blood vessel density in the retina may mirror what's going on in the tiny blood vessels in the brain". Our work is not done.
"There is a strong effort in the research community to develop a less invasive test, such as a blood test that can yield information about Alzheimer's disease risk, " he said. "Therefore we are able to detect much smaller levels of change". 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.
There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, but early detection can help patients receive treatments that may lesson the symptoms, determine eligibility for clinical trials and have more time to plan for the future.
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