In a new study, researchers found a change in the back of the eye could be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease.
The finding may help develop new diagnose of the disease.
The research was conducted by researchers from Northwestern Medicine.
Previous research has found that patients with Alzheimer’s have decreased retinal blood flow and vessel density.
However, it had not been known if these changes are also present in individuals with early Alzheimer’s or forgetful mild cognitive impairment who have a higher risk of progressing to dementia.
In the study, the team found that reduced blood capillaries in the back of the eye may be a new, noninvasive way to diagnose early cognitive impairment.
Early cognitive impairment is the precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.
The team recruited 32 participants who had cognitive testing consistent with the forgetful type of cognitive impairment and matched them to subjects who tested as cognitively normal for their age.
The researchers focused on whether the vascular capillaries in the back of the eye were different between the two groups of individuals.
They detected vascular changes in the participants’ eye with an infrared camera. They did not use dyes or expensive MRI scanners.
The camera used a new type of technology (OCT angiography) that can quantify capillary changes in great detail.
It makes the eye an ideal mirror for what is going on in the brain.
The team suggests that this approach may provide a new biomarker to identify individuals at high risk of progressing to Alzheimer’s.
These people can then be followed more closely and they could try new therapies to slow down the progression of the disease.
The findings can help develop early therapies for Alzheimer’s, which are more effective if they are started before brain damage and cognitive decline have occurred.
Now the team hopes to correlate their findings with other more standard types of Alzheimer’s biomarkers.
They will also explore the long-term changes in the eye parameters in these subjects.
The lead author of the study is Dr. Amani Fawzi, a professor of ophthalmology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine physician.
The study is published in PLOS ONE.
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