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Alzheimer's Disease Could Be Diagnosed With Eye Test

Newsweek logo Newsweek 8/24/2018 Kashmira Gander

An eye test could one day be used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, according to research. 

While there is no cure for Alzheimer's, catching the condition early is important as some symptoms are reversible and treatable. But there is currently no one reliable biological test for the disease, and diagnostic methods—such as the cerebrospinal fluid test—are costly and invasive.

Existing research indicates amyloid, the protein that collects in the brain of those with Alzheimer’s disease, could also affect the retina. Scientists at Washington University in St. Louis hypothesized a simple eye test could be used to diagnose the neurodegenerative disease which affects 5.7 million people in America.

The researchers enlisted the help of 30 adults who didn’t show any signs of dementia, and tested them for biomarkers of preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.

Read more: Skinny fat body type linked to dementia risk in study

Each participant had an optical coherence tomographic angiography examination, which images the vasculature of the eye.

Of the total participants, 14 had biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease. These individuals were also more likely to have abnormalities in their retinas compared to those without the disease biomarkers.

a person wearing a hat © Provided by IBT Media

While the results of the study published in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology were promising, the authors acknowledged more people must be studied to determine whether such tests could be one day used to diagnose the disease.

Dr. Doug Brown, chief policy and research officer at the charity Alzheimer’s Society who was not involved in the study, commented: “testing whether changes in the eye, such as those in the retina, might be an early sign of dementia is a fascinating area of research. Yet it is simply too soon to hail this as a new way of diagnosing dementia.”

“However, although well conducted, this study was very small, including only 30 people who were studied over a very short amount of time. And without confirming that any of the people with preclinical Alzheimer’s actually went on to develop the disease, we would need to see this carried out on a much larger group over a longer period of time to draw any firm conclusions.”

Dr. Sara Imarisio, head of research at the charity Alzheimer’s Research U.K. praised the authors for exploring a “relatively quick, inexpensive and non-invasive” approach to diagnosing the disease, but flagged more research is needed to confirm its effectiveness. 

The study was published the same week as another paper which found eye scans could detect Parkinson’s disease, as a thinning retina could be a sign of the neurodegenerative condition.

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