New research suggests that eye tests could be used in the future to diagnose the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Early trials of two different techniques have showed that a key Alzheimer’s biomarker can be found in the retina and lens of the eye, with tests proving to be highly accurate and able to distinguish between a probable Alzheimer’s patient and a healthy volunteer.
While still in the beginning stages, further research could result in eye tests being used as a first step in identifying those with the disease before patients experience any of the telltale signs.
For this reason, experts believe the findings could be a complete ”game changer” in the treatment of the disease, as early detection is vital, allowing doctors to actually treat the disease and not merely the symptoms.
Dr Simon Ridley, head of science at the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “The development of a quick, cheap, non-invasive test to detect Alzheimer’s would be an important step in helping people to receive an early diagnosis, and helping to improve clinical trials so that potential new treatments have the best chance of success.
Until now, attempts to find drugs that halt the progression of Alzheimer’s have failed because by the time patients seek treatment, too much damage has already been caused to the brain.
While the eye tests would simply provide the first step in identification, patients would then undergo more costly and in-depth procedures to confirm the presence of the disease. As Shaun Frost from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation explains, “We envision this technology potentially as an initial screen that could complement what is currently used: brain PET imaging, MRI imaging, and clinical tests”.
Throughout both studies, scientists looked for signs of beta-amyloid protein, which forms clumps in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s and is a key hallmark of the disease.
The Australian study required patients and volunteers to take a supplement of the spice ingredient curcumin, which binds to beta-amyloid and shows up in eye imaging systems, while the US study used an ointment that when applied, highlighted the presence of the protein in the lens of the eye, which was then detected by laser scanning.
Both tests showed similar results and levels of accuracy, while also proving that eye tests could also be used in the future to monitor the disease and gauge the effectiveness of treatments.
While the research is still very new and in the initial stages, the studies have provided some very promising results.