A special eye-scanning technique could detect Alzheimer’s disease at its earliest stage, even before major symptoms appear, according to research by New England scientists. The scan can be done in an ophthalmologist’s office, and could pave the way for earlier treatment of the disease, according to the researchers.
The scientists devised a painless, noninvasive method, requiring no dyes or chemical tracers, to search for clues of early Alzheimer’s disease. They used optical coherence tomography, a medical imaging technique that can scan a patient’s retina for abnormalities, according to an article published May 5 online by Live Science.
“There is no treatment for Alzheimer’s,” Cláudia Santos, a University of Rhode Island graduate student who led the study, said in the article. “It may be because we are trying to intervene too late in the disease and can’t reverse the dementia.”
This OCT technique “might be a good screening tool for preclinical Alzheimer’s, since the OCT can be performed at any ophthalmologist clinic,” Santos said.
The research was presented at the May 5 annual meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology in Seattle.
The researchers, including Peter Snyder, a professor of neurology at Brown University in Providence, studied 63 people ages 55 to 75 at high risk for Alzheimer’s disease, based on symptoms and family history, according to the paper’s abstract.
The researchers compared results from PET scans measuring the accumulation of beta-amyloid protein, known to be related to Alzheimer’s, with the OCT scans.
The scans revealed aggregates of cellular material that correlated well with the level of beta-amyloid close to the retina seen in the PET scan, Santos told Live Science.
As many as 5 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2013, and by 2050, the number is projected to rise to 14 million, a nearly three-fold increase, according to the CDC. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.
The researchers will perform the PET scan and OCT in 20 months to compare to the baseline results, and hope to repeat the study with new participants, according to the Life Science article.
For more information on Alzheimer’s disease take the continuing education module, “Alzheimer’s Disease, Part 1: Trends in Diagnosis and Management.”
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