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Eye tracking technology boost for rare form of Alzheimer’s

Scientists at UCL (University College London) have secured £38,000 funding from Alzheimer’s Research UK for eye-tracking equipment to boost research into a rare form of Alzheimer’s. The grant will pay for the high tech equipment to study posterior cortical atrophy (PCA) which affects only a few thousand people in the UK, including the best-selling author Sir Terry Pratchett, a patron of Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Unlike typical Alzheimer’s disease, patients with PCA often do not experience memory loss as an early symptom. Instead, they suffer from a loss of visual function which can reduce their spatial awareness and make it difficult for them to recognise objects or faces. The disease doesn’t cause damage to the eyes, but to the area at the back of the brain which processes and interprets what we see.

Thanks to this essential new funding boost, Dr Sebastian Crutch and his team at the UCL Institute of Neurology can now invest in an innovative machine called EyeLink II to help with their mission to unravel this complex disease.

The team is already learning more about PCA by comparing the brains of healthy people with those of patients with PCA and Alzheimer’s disease. The equipment will allow them to track eye movements in great detail, to better understand the problems caused by PCA and to help develop visual aids to assist patients with more advanced problems.

Dr Crutch, a leading expert on PCA said:
“We are really grateful to Alzheimer’s Research UK for investing in our research. This new state-of-the-art equipment will allow us to track the movement of people’s eyes using high speed cameras to better understand the visual problems associated with these types of dementia. The equipment will also help us to design visual aids which are most suited to people with PCA and other visual problems.”

Cecil Hart and his wife Teresa, of Buckden in Cambridgeshire know all too well the debilitating symptoms associated with this illness. Teresa was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2009 and has experienced the visual symptoms associated with PCA.

Cecil said: “One of the first symptoms that Teresa noticed was that she found it difficult reading or watching the television.

“Sometimes I’ll ask her to pass me something from the coffee table but she just can’t see it, even if it is in front of her. It’s so frustrating for her and I now have to help her with many everyday tasks. We would support any research involved in finding out more about these symptoms and how to improve the lives of people with PCA.”

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said:
“We are really excited about this project and are so pleased to be able to fund such cutting-edge research.

“With over 820,000 people in the UK living with dementia, research into its causes is essential if we are to beat this devastating disease. We believe that giving scientists access to advanced equipment is essential in allowing them to lead the way in defeating dementia.”

Alzheimer's Research UK

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