Keeping an ‘eye’ on dementia research at the ADI2015 conference

Thursday 16 April 2015

New developments in eye imaging technology used to detect dementias were outlined today by American and Australian dementia researchers at the Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) conference in Perth.  The remarkable thing about this form of detection is that some trials suggest eye imaging may detect Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias 10-20 years before symptoms appear. 

Retinal specialist and Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at Duke University Medical Center, Dr Eleonora Lad, stressed the importance of early detection and highlighted that there are few reliable methods to detect the early signs of dementia.

“It is becoming more evident that if we can treat dementia early, before symptoms occur and too much damage is caused, the progress of the condition can be stalled.

“Because the retina is an extension of the brain, retinal changes may mirror the changes that occur in the brain with dementia. It has long been recognised that people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease experience abnormalities in vision, perception of colour, motion, and peripheral vision,” Dr Lad said.
Dr Lad in collaboration with her colleagues have developed novel image-analysis software that is able to make correlations between eye layer thickness and other structural changes, and the likelihood of person to develop Alzheimer’s disease. 

 “The resolution of our eye imaging technology is 100 times that of a brain MRI scan, improving our ability to detect early changes caused by dementia. It can be performed more frequently and at a small fraction of the cost of a brain MRI scan, which can be in the thousands of dollars.

“While our software is still a few years from becoming routinely available in a clinical setting, it has already been used in a number of large-scale clinical trials. It is possible that in the future an image could be analysed on the spot and any suspicious images would be referred to that persons GP for further consultation,” Dr Lad said.

Australian researcher, Dr Mojtaba Golzan from the School of Advanced Medicine, Macquarie University is also undertaking similar experimental research, which will also be presented at the conference.

“Our preliminary research suggests changes in small blood vessels in the eye may correspond to similar changes to blood vessels in the brain, which are known to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Our research may lead to a relatively low-cost and non-invasive approach to enable early detection of Alzheimer’s disease,” Dr Golzan said.

Alzheimer’s Australia CEO Carol Bennett said what was being presented at the conference was research that may help in less invasive, earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease in the future.

“It is becoming quite evident that the way we detect and diagnose Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia could be much simpler and quicker in as little as 10 years’ time.  This would be a good development for the hundreds of thousands of Australians with dementia and their carers.”

Dr Lad received funding through Alzheimer’s Association and Duke Institute for Brain Sciences in 2013 and 2014 to undertake this research.

Dr Golzan received funding through the Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Research Foundation in 2013 to undertake this research.