A ‘revolutionary’ new eye test could change the way Alzheimer’s is detected with Australian researchers at the forefront of the exciting technology.
The Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) is set to begin clinical trials of it’s non-invasive, cost-effective test after a staggering $600,000 was donated from a group of American philanthropists including Bill Gates.
The generous funding will go towards a world first trial of eye scans based on imaging technology similar to that used in NASA satellites.
It works by using specialised colour imaging in cameras to measure the deposition of a protein, known as amyloid beta in the retina many years before symptoms even occur. This particular protein is known to accumulate in the brain of someone with Alzheimer’s with recent research also indicating its existence in the retina.
Co-creator of the eye test Associate Professor van Peter van Wijngaarden said the approach has the potential to revolutionise the diagnosis of the disease. He also claimed it could accelerate research efforts to delay, prevent or even cure the disease, as scientists take a more targeted and less invasive approach to testing new drugs and treatments for those most at risk.
“We hope to develop a simple, non-invasive test that can identify people at risk of the disease and open the way to new treatments and hopefully a cure,’’ van Wijngaarden explained.
“Current tests for Alzheimer’s disease are expensive and invasive. Not only are they out of the financial reach of most health care systems, their cost and limited availability make the testing of new treatments much more difficult, slowing down the pace of discovery.’’
The eye test will be offered to volunteers in the Health Brain Project, an innovative study of healthy middle-aged adults with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease that aims to identify risk factors.
According to van Wijngaarden the test could effectively stop the disease in its tracks and even prevent people from developing it in the first place.
“Ultimately, we would hope this technology will be used to identify people at high risk of Alzheimer’s disease who may need to go on to the next wave of treatments so that they may never develop the disease,” he added.
The latest news follows reports just last week of the link between high LDL cholesterol levels and early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Everyone naturally has high-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol) and low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) in their bodies, but researchers are now interested in how LDL cholesterol can impact the development of the early-onset of Alzheimer’s. Higher levels of high-density lipoprotein are actually good for health, but the body’s cells can’t handle high levels of LDL.
Cholesterol can build up in the walls of the arteries when levels are too high, leading to an array of serious health problems.
“The big question is whether there is a causal link between cholesterol levels in the blood and Alzheimer’s disease risk,” lead author Thomas Wingo said in the study published in the JAMA Neurology Journal.
Researchers analysed 2,125 people as part of their study. Of those, 654 had early-onset Alzheimer’s and 1,471 were controls. Blood samples of 267 participants were also analysed to measure the amount of LDL cholesterol.
It was found that APOE E4 explained 10 per cent of cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s, while one of three other specific gene variants related to early-onset Alzheimer’s (APP, PSEN1 and PSEN2) were identified in 3 per cent of cases.
After analysing blood samples, participants with elevated LDL levels were more likely to have early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, compared with patients with lower cholesterol levels. There was no link found between high-density lipoprotein levels and early-onset Alzheimer’s.
The study also found that a rare variant of a gene called APOB – a gene that encodes a protein that’s involved in the metabolism of lipids, or fats, including cholesterol – was another possible genetic risk factor for early-onset Alzheimer’s.
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