Researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation investigated whether changes to blood vessels in the retina – the light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye – could be an early sign of the disease. In a pilot study, they compared retinal photographs from 13 people with Alzheimer’s, 13 people with mild cognitive impairment and 100 healthy people.
They found the width of blood vessels in the retina was significantly different for people with Alzheimer’s compared to healthy people. Brain scans also showed the group with Alzheimer’s had higher levels of amyloid – a toxic protein that builds in the brain in Alzheimer’s, damaging nerve cells.
They researchers hope a simple eye test could eventually be used to identify people in the early stages of the disease, with brain scans used to confirm a diagnosis.
Their findings are to be reported at the American Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Paris today (17 July).
Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“This study adds to previous work suggesting that eye scans could be a useful aid for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease. These results could lead to a simple and effective method of detecting Alzheimer’s at a much earlier stage, but much more work remains to be done.
“The ability to diagnose Alzheimer’s early is a key target for research. Not only would early detection allow people to plan for the future, it would mean potential new treatments could be tested at the earliest stages of the disease, when they are most likely to have an effect. With 820,000 people affected by dementia in the UK, we urgently need more research to find better ways to diagnose, treat and prevent dementia.”
Alzheimer’s Research UK