Eye Test Could Aid Alzheimer’s Detection

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A simple and inexpensive eye test could aid detection and diagnosis of major neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s at an earlier stage than is currently possible, according to new research by University College London scientists. 

The research, led by Professors Francesca Cordeiro & Stephen Moss and published in Cell Death & Disease, demonstrates a new technique that enables retinal, and therefore brain cell death, to be directly measured in real time. The method, demonstrated in an animal model, could not only refine diagnosis of neurodegenerative disorders and help track disease progress; it could also aid the assessment and development of new treatments. 

The technique uses fluorescent markers that attach themselves to the relevant cells and indicate the stage of cell death. The retina is then observed using a customized laser ophthalmoscope. Until now, this kind of technique has only been used in cells in the lab, rather than in live animals. This research is therefore the first ever in vivo demonstration of retinal nerve cell death in Alzheimer’s Disease. 

Professor Cordeiro, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, said: “The death of nerve cells is the key event in all neurodegenerative disorders – but until now it has not been possible to study cell death in real time. This technique means we should be able to directly observe retinal nerve cell death in patients, which has a number of advantages in terms of effective diagnosis. This could be critically important since identification of the early stages could lead to successful reversal of the disease progression with treatment. 

“Currently, the biggest obstacle to research into new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases is the lack of a technique where the brain’s response to new treatments can be directly assessed – this technique could potentially help overcome that.” 

Although this paper outlines the technique in animal models (rats and mice), Professor Cordeiro’s team are further along with work using the same technique to detect and assess glaucoma, and will be conducting their first patient trials later this year. 

She added: “The equipment used for this research was customized to suit animal models but is essentially the same as is used in hospitals and clinics worldwide. It is also inexpensive and non-invasive, which makes us fairly confident that we can progress quickly to its use in patients. 

“Few people realize that the retina is a direct, albeit thin, extension of the brain. It is entirely possible that in the future a visit to [an optometrist] to check on your eyesight will also be a check on the state of your brain.”

Written by Trevor Miranda

Dr. Miranda was raised in Simcoe, Ontario and graduated from the University of Waterloo with his Doctorate of Optometry in 1995. Following graduation, he moved to beautiful Vancouver Island, where he continues to serve the eye care needs of the Cowichan Valley. Trevor is also an active member of the Third World Eye Care Society and has participated with other professionals to improve the vision of the less fortunate. Dr. Miranda was named Optometrist of the Year by the British Columbia Association of Optometrists in March 2015. This prestigious honour recognized Dr. Miranda’s commitment to providing every patient with exceptional care while mentoring optometrists across Canada. Outside the office, you will find Trevor enjoying hockey, coaching soccer, involved with the South Cowichan Rotary Club, and spending time with his wife Cheryl and their three children. Trevor looks forward to continuing to care for the eyes of the Cowichan Valley and welcomes new patients without a referral. Dr. Miranda is available for appointments in our Duncan and Cobble Hill.
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