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Evidence fits an eye scan to detect early Alzheimer's disease

CHICAGO, October 28, 2018 / PRNewswire / – The results of two studies show that a new non-invasive imaging device…

CHICAGO, October 28, 2018 / PRNewswire / – The results of two studies show that a new non-invasive imaging device can see signs of Alzheimer’s disease in a few seconds. The researchers show that the small blood vessels in the retina behind the eye change in patients with Alzheimer’s. Even patients who have a family history of Alzheimer’s but who have no symptoms show these signals. And they showed that they can distinguish between people with Alzheimer’s and those with only mild cognitive impairment. Results from these studies are presented at AAO 2018, 122th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

A new type of accurate and non-invasive imaging called optical coherent tomography angiography (OCTA) has helped much of the latest research on the eye associated with Alzheimer’s. It allows doctors to see the smallest veins in the eye, including the red blood cells that move through the retina.

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Because the retina is connected to the brain by means of optic nerve, researchers believe that the deterioration of the retina and its blood vessels can reflect the changes that occur in the blood vessels and structures of the brain, which provides a window into the disease process.

Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is currently a challenge. Some technicians can detect signs of the disease but are impractical for screening millions of people: Brain scars are expensive and back cranes can be harmful. Instead, the disease is often diagnosed by memory tests or observing behavioral changes. When these changes are noted, the disease is advanced. Although there is no cure, early diagnosis is critical because future treatments are likely to be most effective when given early. Early diagnosis would also give patients and their families time to plan for the future.

The goal of the latest research is to find a fast and inexpensive way to discover Alzheimer’s earliest signs.

Duke University researchers used OCTA to compare retinas in Alzheimer’s patients with people with mild cognitive impairment as well as healthy people. They found that Alzheimer’s group had a loss of small retinal blood vessels in the eye and that a specific layer of retina was thinner. Even those with mild cognitive impairment did not show these changes.

Ophthalmologist and chief writer Sharon Fekrat, professor of ophthalmic drugs at Duke, together with colleague Dilraj Grewal M.D., professor of ophthalmic drugs at Duke, and their research team expect their work to have a positive impact on the patient’s lives.

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