LOS ANGELES — A new study finds that a retina-based test could help predict one’s chances of later developing Alzheimer’s, which afflicts millions of elderly Americans.
Researchers at Cedars-Sinai, a Los Angeles-based non-profit hospital, developed a high-definition eye scan that was able to detect buildup of amyloid-beta deposits, which are linked to the onset of the neurodegenerative disease.
“The findings suggest that the retina may serve as a reliable source for Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis,” says Maya Koronyo-Hamaoui, one of the study’s lead researchers, in a hospital news release. “One of the major advantages of analyzing the retina is the repeatability, which allows us to monitor patients and potentially the progression of their disease.”
To test their method, researchers brought in 16 Alzheimer’s patients who were instructed to drink curcumin, which contains compounds that illuminate plaque deposits in the retina.
Subsequently, the deposits of these patients were compared to those of average individuals who weren’t afflicted by the disease.
Through this experiment, researchers discovered that plaque levels encountered in the retina often correlated with plaque levels found in the brain.
“Now we know exactly where to look to find the signs of Alzheimer’s disease as early as possible,” explains researcher Yosef Koronyo.
Ultimately, a retina-based detection method could help with treating the disease in its earliest stages, the researchers argue.
While five million Americans currently have Alzheimer’s, that figure is expected to triple by 2050, per the Alzheimer’s Association. Technology has facilitated easier diagnosis in recent years, the researchers note, but many detection options still entail undergoing invasive, if not outright dangerous, procedures.
“Our hope is that eventually the investigational eye scan will be used as a screening device to detect the disease early enough to intervene and change the course of the disorder with medications and lifestyle changes,” adds co-author Dr. Keith Black, chair of the hospital’s neurosurgery department.
The study’s findings were published last week in the journal JCI Insight.