Seeing signs of Alzheimer’s in the eye


Researchers have discovered eye abnormalities which may help reveal features of early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Using a laboratory lab rat model and high-resolution imaging techniques, scientists correlated variations of the eye structure to identify initial symptoms of the disease. Alzheimer’s is characterized by a loss of memory and a progressive decline in cognitive function. More than 26 million people suffer its effects today and projections estimate that as many as 100 million will have the disease by 2050. Diagnosis, treatment and understanding of the disease remain unclear.

The eye uniquely linked to the brain

“Detecting changes in the brain that indicate Alzheimer’s disease can be an extremely challenging task,” noted Shaomei Wang, MD, PhD, lead author of the study and an associate professor in the Regenerative Medicine Institute and Department of Biomedical Sciences. “By using the eye as a window to brain activity and function we may be able to diagnose patients sooner and give them more time to prepare for the future. Options may include earlier enrollment in clinical trials, developing support networks and dealing with any financial and legal matters.”

Two changes are linked to the disease

Researchers have found changes in the retinal pigment epithelial layer which has the supportive cells located in the back of the eye, and changes in the thickness of the choroidal layer that has blood cells providing nutrients to the eye among patients with Alzheimer’s and laboratory rats also with dementia. Researchers were able to monitor tissue degeneration in the eye as well as decline of visual function and linked them to Alzheimer’s.

Early identification can lead to better studies and treatments

“Greater magnitude in the eye abnormalities may mean a greater chance of a patient having Alzheimer’s disease,’ explained Alexander Ljubimov, PhD, director of the Eye Program within the Regenerative Medicine Institute and co-author of the study. “We found that a rat model showed similar signs to the human ailment in the eye. If true in a larger number of humans, these findings may be used to study Alzheimer’s disease mechanisms and test potential drugs.”

Source: MedicalNewsToday, Cedars-Sinai Regenerative Medicine Institute

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