Eye scan may detect early signs of Alzheimer's

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Research out of the Duke Eye Center found that the density of blood vessels in the eye differs between those with the neurodegenerative disease and those without it. Their study was published online today in Ophthalmology Retina, a journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

The new test uses an imaging technique, optical coherence tomography angiography (Octa),... Within less than a minute, OCTA takes a non-invasive picture of the retina - the nerve cells in the back of our eyes that convert light from the outside world into nerve signals that the brain interprets into images.

They say this loss of blood vessels may mirror what's going on in other tiny blood vessels in the brain, even before a patient develops memory loss. "Like is there just one string to the spider web, or twenty?"

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But US scientists at the Duke Eye Centre in North Carolina wondered if changes might also be visible in the retina, which is an extension of the brain and so could offer a window into what is happening behind the skull.

Grewal and his colleagues used OCTA to peer into the eyes of 39 Alzheimer's patients, 37 people with MCI and 133 cognitively healthy people, the controls.

Previously researchers have known about the changes that occur in the brain and in the small blood vessels in people with Alzheimer's disease. For every additional 5 years of age beyond 65, the number of people living with Alzheimer's doubles.

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An Alzheimer's diagnosis is now made based on clinical history and cognitive testing, without relying on imaging studies or blood tests. Past research has sought a way to diagnose the disease at an earlier stage, potentially making it possible to start treatment or make lifestyle changes to help mitigate the progression.

Prof Fekrat and colleagues said diagnosing Alzheimer's is a challenge. Similar findings were discovered in 2018.

So why may there be poor blood supply to the eyes of people with Alzheimer's? "Now we can look at blood vessels that are at the level of capillaries in the different layers of the retina". It may get trapped in the deposits of another protein called amyloid that is commonly associated with in the disease. Thus, less invasive tests such as a blood test can be conducted instead of people having to go through the more invasive spinal fluid test.

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He also claimed that the learning model could drastically slow down the progression of Alzheimer's disease.