The new technology, developed by Cedars-Sinai and NeuroVision Imaging LLC, scans the retina using techniques that can identify a neurotoxic beta-amyloid protein, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
The study suggests that amyloid-beta plaques, the prime suspects in tissue loss and cell death in the Alzheimer’s brain, are not only formed in the brain but also the retina.
The plaque is a buildup of toxic proteins called amyloid-beta deposits, which are key signs of Alzheimer’s. Build up in the brain may occur as early as two decades before people begin to experience signs of the disease.
The work, carried out by neuroscientists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, involves looking at the retina using a specially developed high-definition eye scan to assess whether or not the proteins thought to be responsible for Alzheimer’s are present and to what degree.
“The findings suggest that the retina may serve as a reliable source for Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis,” explains Maya Koronyo-Hamaoui, who led the research. “One of the major advantages of analyzing the retina is the repeatability, which allows us to monitor patients and potentially the progression of their disease.”
“Now we know exactly where to look to find the signs of Alzheimer’s disease as early as possible,” said Dr. Yosef Koronyo, one of the study’s authors.
Dr. Keith L. Black, the chair of Cedars-Sinai’s Department of Neurosurgery who co-led the study, said the new research offers hope for early detection of the disease that could lead to effective intervention.
Finding protein plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease can often require costly PET scans or invasive spinal taps.
The test is inexpensive and non-invasive, allowing doctors to trace the progression of the disease over time.
Findings strongly suggest that retinal imaging can serve as a surrogate biomarker to investigate and monitor Alzheimer’s, researchers said. Clinical trials are ongoing.
The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight.