Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease with no definitive cause or cure. A common feature of the disease are plaques of protein in the brain called beta amyloid (Aβ) which can appear decades before the first symptoms of dementia are observed. The retina, which is the light sensing tissue of the eye, is an extension of the brain and thus a “window” into the health of the brain. Recent research has found that the Aβ load in Alzheimer’s patient brains correlates with levels detected in the retina, heralding an exciting avenue of clinical research for non-invasive detection of the disease. It is now possible to study the molecular events that underpin Alzheimer’s disease in the laboratory using a patient’s very own stem cells (called induced pluripotent stem cells or iPSCs). Using iPSCs from patients with clinically diagnosed AD, our study aims to create the first lab-based retinal model of Alzheimer’s disease. Using a range of cutting-edge technologies, we aim to develop a robust model that can ultimately be used for drug screening, to identify therapeutics that inhibit or reverse Aβ-mediated damage in the retina. Findings from this study may provide new avenues for Alzheimer’s research and therapeutic discovery.
Grace Lidgerwood is currently a Research Fellow in the Stem Cell Disease Modelling Unit in the Department of Anatomy and Physiology, University of Melbourne.