An eye exam may soon be able to detect your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. An influx of recent research and investment aims to develop both a reliable and affordable eye test for Alzheimer’s.
Bill Gates, who has invested $30million into research says, “We need a better way of diagnosing Alzheimer’s – like a simple eye exam – prior to being diagnosed with the disease”.
No Easy Detection
But why would an Alzheimer’s eye test be a game changer? Currently, there is no easy nor cheap way to detect what is the most common cause of dementia. Physicians use expensive technology and invasive spinal taps to help diagnose the disease. However, such a diagnosis is generally not confirmed until signs of the disease are found in a deceased persons brain.
Approximately 5.5 million people in the United States are expected to be living with Alzheimer’s disease; this number is expected to triple by 2060. If an eye exam can predict and identify the disease years, or even decades, before a person shows any symptoms, doctors would be given much more time to slow its progression.
Brain Cells and Protein
While research into its exact causes is continuous, it is known that the disease involves the degeneration and death of brain cells. A key culprit is known to be the build-up of beta-amyloid. This is a fragment of the amyloid precursor protein, which resides in the fatty tissue surrounding brains cells or neurons.
In patients with Alzheimer’s, beta-amyloid fragments clump together, forming plaques in the brain. These plaques disrupt neuronal communication and trigger immune cell activity. Consequently, this results in inflammation and brain cell death. Current diagnostic techniques are limited and expensive, making screening difficult.
However, recent studies have found that beta-amyloid can actually be detected in the retina. A new technique uses auto fluorescent imaging, an ophthalmic camera and image processing software to take an image of the retina. Early research found that this technique identified beta-amyloid plaques in Alzheimer’s patients that were 4.7 times greater than those without the disease.
Where From Here?
While greater research and investment is required, early findings suggested that retinal imaging may be a feasible, low-cost technique in the detection of Alzheimer’s disease. So, how soon might you see this technology readily available in an eye exam? Researchers say it could be as soon as two to three years away.