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Retina Exam May Detect Alzheimer's Disease Before Symptoms Emerge

14 March 2019

"We're measuring blood vessels that can't be seen during a regular eye exam and we're doing that with relatively new noninvasive technology that takes high-resolution images of very small blood vessels within the retina in just a few minutes", according to Sharon Fekrat, M.D., Duke ophthalmologist and retinal surgeon, and the study's senior author. Prof Fekrat and colleagues said this offers "a window into the disease process". 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. "We already have more definitive ways to diagnose dementia due to Alzheimer's, but we need to see if OTCA can be a useful cost-effective screening test for pre-symptomatic Alzheimer's".

One of the limitations of the new study is that 22 percent of the Alzheimer's group studied was unable to complete the imaging study because of inability to focus long enough for its completion.

Prof Fekrat and colleagues said diagnosing Alzheimer's is a challenge.

It would also give patients time to plan for the future with their families - while they still have their faculties, said the U.S. team.

Brain scans are expensive and spinal taps or "lumbar punctures" - in which a needle is inserted into the spine to collect cerebrospinal fluid - have risks.

Now the only ways to definitively diagnose Alzheimer's are through expensive brain scans or by taking a fluid sample from the patient's spinal cord. "Our work is not done".

A person's eye health can determine the probability of Alzheimer's diagnosis in later life, according to a study by the Duke Health Center in North Carolina.

He said that they used a non-invasive technology called optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA) to measure the blood flow in each of the layers of the retina.

Alzheimer's remains an incurable, fatal disease suffered by millions of people from around the world, and can only be treated by palliative means.

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Retina Exam May Detect Alzheimer's Disease Before Symptoms Emerge