Published: Thu, March 14, 2019
Medicine | By Tracy Klein

Alzheimer's researchers studying link between eye and brain health

Alzheimer's researchers studying link between eye and brain health

However, in the eyes of 39 people with Alzheimer's disease, the web was less dense and even sparse in places. "The very earliest changes in the brain can appear up to 20 years before we see clinical symptoms, so the holy grail would be to identify and treat people the moment these changes start".

The Alzheimer's group had loss of small retinal blood vessels at the back of the eye. "We also found a reduction in the thickness of (of a specific layer of the retina) in Alzheimer's patients compared to controls and those with mild cognitive impairment".

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 company's Australian arm, IBM Research, Australia, undertook a research and published its findings in journal Scientific Reports".

The eye scan is called optical coherence tomographic angiography, or OCTA for short. Prof Fekrat and colleagues said this offers "a window into the disease process".

One of the main reasons new drugs have been ineffective so far is they are administered too late to trial patients - when the disease is advanced.

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

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

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.

Currently, medical professionals can diagnose the memory-destroying disease through brain-imaging tests (such an MRI or CT scan), neurological exams and other methods. Such techniques to study the brain are invasive and costly. Instead, the disease is often diagnosed through memory tests or observing behavioral changes.

"Cognitively normal, healthy individuals do not have these changes in their retina", said Dr. Sharon Fekrat, the study's lead researcher Dr. Sharon Fekrat.

"But future studies need to focus on earlier stages of the disease", Isaacson said in an email.

They looked at the retinas of 200 people using a new non-invasive technology that takes high-resolution images of the retina.

Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia affect 850,000 people in the United Kingdom - a figure set to rise to 2 million by 2050 because of the ageing population.

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