New study shows an eye scan can detect signs of Alzheimer's disease

Leslie Hanson
March 14, 2019

In a research conducted by Ben Goudey, a researcher at the Genomics Research Team of IBM Research, and his team at IBM Research- Australia it is found that machine learning has been utilized to identify a set of proteins in the blood that can predict the concentration of the biomarker amyloid-beta (amyloid-β) in spinal fluid, which can help predict the risk of Alzheimer's disease long before it gets detected, because Alzheimer's usually gets detected in the later stages. "These changes happening in the retina in the eye may actually mirror the blood vessel changes happening in the brain of individual's with Alzheimer's disease". They compared the density and thickness of these blood vessels in 133 healthy individuals, 37 people with mild cognitive impairment (sometimes a precursor to Alzheimer's disease) and 39 people with Alzheimer's disease. Typically, they can see a network of tiny blood vessels but researchers identified a change that could signal early Alzheimer's. This latest research is the largest study to date and adds to the current literature as scientists strive to find a quick, noninvasive, and low-cost way to detect Alzheimer's at the earliest stages.

The test involved a machine that performed optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA), a non-invasive procedure that only takes a few minutes. For those with Alzheimer's, the same vessels are sparse and lacking in different areas.

In an online publication obtained on Monday, Goudey explained that Alzheimer has been diagnosed to be the cause of dementia - a decline in thinking and person's pattern of behaviour. Results could be helpful in the fight against Alzheimer's disease. Earlier diagnosis would also give patients and their families time to plan for the future. Prof Fekrat and colleagues said this offers "a window into the disease process".

"It's possible these changes in blood vessel density in the retina may mirror what's going on in the tiny blood vessels in the brain".


With almost a large portion of the world living with Alzheimer's disease and no viable treatments or non-invasive tools for early diagnosis, the burden on the families and the economy becomes heavy.

An earlier study of 32,000 people by University College London using a similar technique found those with thinner retinas were more likely to have problems with memory and reasoning.

In the US alone, 5.8 million people are living with Alzheimer's dementia, according to 2019 data from the Alzheimer's Association.

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