But that could change soon thanks to a simple, non-invasive test that has accurately detected Alzheimer’s disease in mice. Early detection—even 10 to 20 years prior to the emergence of symptoms—could yield more successful treatments.
How the Eye Test Works
Researchers from the University of Minnesota Center for Drug Design examined the retinas of mice through a camera. In some mice, researchers pinpointed the formation of amyloid plaque—one of the markers of Alzheimer’s disease—even before symptoms showed up.
The test works because the retina is part of the central nervous system. But it’s more easily accessible than the brain. This permits the non-invasive test to detect plaques even before they develop in the brain.
Less Invasive than Current Technology
Today, positron emission tomography (PET) scans can detect amyloid plaque in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. This represents a step forward in diagnosis, which could previously only take place in an autopsy after death.
But PET scans subject the patients to radiation, increasing the risk of cancer. Doctors hesitate to use them with regularity to monitor the progress of Alzheimer’s. And the cost for a PET scan can be significant.
Not the First… But Maybe the Best
As far back as 2014, presenters at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, revealed retinal imaging scans capable of measuring amyloid plaque formation in the back of the eye.
In one of these tests, an amyloid-binding ligand, which glows fluorescent with the presence of amyloids, is administered to the inner eyelid the day before the scan. The scan itself takes about one second, so multiple scans are performed in five minutes to collect data and compute a score.
However, the latest test requires only one visit to the doctor and no substances applied to the eyes. Instead, a camera takes a detailed color picture of the retina and looks at the way light is reflected off of it. The microscopic bits of amyloid beta in the retina visibly scatter the shortest wavelengths of light.
Experts say this is the same phenomena that occurs when the sun makes the sky appear blue during the day and orange and red during sunset, and purple and pink at sunrise.
Closer than We Imagine
The research will continue. Following effective clinical trials in mice early this summer, participants are currently being selected for the first human trials. And researchers are optimistic since the mice trials went even better than planned.
Benefits of Early Detection
The early detection of Alzheimer’s disease—even before symptoms emerge—could lead to the development of drugs that could slow or even halt the progression of the disease.
And even before the first effective drugs hit the market, early detection could help families prepare to assist their loved ones as the disease begins to progress.
Need Help With Memory Care?
Until the time comes that early detection leads to a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, Five Star Senior Living is here with memory care communities to provide your loved ones with the highest quality of life. Contact us to learn more about our award-winning memory care program based on Montessori methodology.