Eye test could help detect Alzheimer's diseaseCould also be extended to other conditions
A new eye test developed by researchers at University College London can detect the onset of brain conditions such as Alzheimer's disease.
The test can directly assess the health of the cells in the retina using a laser scan. As retina cells are nerve cells which send signals directly to the brain, this can provide an early indication of the onset of brain diseases as well as providing information about their progress.
One of the leaders of the study, Professor Francesca Cordeiro, commented: "The death of nerve cells is the key event in all neurodegenerative disorders - but until now it has not been possible to study cell death in real time. This technique means we should be able to directly observe retinal nerve cell death in patients, which has a number of advantages in terms of effective diagnosis. This could be critically important since identification of the early stages could lead to successful reversal of the disease progression with treatment."
The new technique, which has so far only been tested on animals, uses fluorescent markers that attach themselves to the relevant cells and indicate the stage of cell death. The retina is then observed using a customised laser ophthalmoscope. Until now this process has only been possible using cells in a lab, so this is the first time ever that retinal nerve cell death in Alzheimer's disease has been observed in a living organism.
Professor Cordeiro's team hope to extend the test to detect and assess glaucoma, and plan to begin human trials later this year. As she noted “"Few people realise that the retina is a direct, albeit thin, extension of the brain. It is entirely possible that in the future a visit to a high-street optician to check on your eyesight will also be a check on the state of your brain."
The research was supported by funding from The Wellcome Trust and The Foundation Fighting Blindness. The project has also been supported by UCL Business proof of concept funds and two patents have been filed around this technology.
This article was published on Fri 15 January 2010
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