Optometrists may one day be able to use the colour shifts in the light reflected by the retina to catch Alzheimer’s disease before the first symptoms develop.
This technique, first spotted in the eyes of mice with the neurological condition, is being put to the test in human patients in a clinical trial.
The Centre for Drug Design at the University of Minnesota is currently recruiting patients with Alzheimer’s and their healthy counterparts for the study.
Each participant will undergo a simple eye test, and images of the retina will be captured so that researchers can analyse colour shifts in the light reflected by the retina.
The researchers – Centre for Drug Design director, Dr Robert Vince, university assistant professor, Dr Swati More and research associate, Dr James Beach – hope that the data will give them a better understanding of how Alzheimer’s disease develops, and enable them to develop a tool for early diagnosis.
Dr More told OT that the screening could one day be done as part of a routine eye examination.
She added: “This test could easily be conducted by today’s optometrists.
“With this software, an optometrist or ophthalmologist will be able to assign a ‘risk-score’ to [a patient’s] final analysis describing the probability or the stage of the disease. This technique could potentially determine the success of treatment,” she explained.
The research trio wrote in the Investigative Ophthalmology & Vision Science journal that the trial will start this month.
Dr More explained that: “[The trial] will examine whether the technique can detect differences in retinae of healthy and Alzheimer’s-afflicted volunteers. This will provide us with information about the sensitivity and accuracy of this method and allow us to fine-tune our measurements and/or analyses.
“The next step would be to evaluate its utility as an early detection technique in population predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease. After successful completion of this trial, we will seek partnership with a medical device or pharmaceutical company to advance this technology to the clinic,” she outlined.
Dr Vince emphasised that early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is a key step towards finding an effective treatment.
He added: “First, effective treatments need to be administered well before patients show actual neurological signs.
“Second, since there are no available early-detection techniques, drugs currently cannot be tested to determine if they are effective against early Alzheimer’s disease. An early diagnostic tool like ours could help the development of drugs as well,” Dr Vince concluded.
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