Could the eye be a window into the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia? Researchers from Queen’s University in Belfast have found profound evidence that it indeed could be.
Research has shown that those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease experience impaired peripheral retinal circulation. The blood vessels closer to their optic nerve are wider, but begin to thin out drastically as they reach the retinal periphery. This means that blood flow is likely to become impaired, slowing nutrient and oxygen flow to the retinal periphery.
With these results recently published in the Journal of Ophthalmic Research, this study is the first of its kind which could be used to monitor Alzheimer’s disease and its progression. Team lead of the study, Dr Imre Lengyel, believes that through examining the eye we may able to surmise what’s taking place in the brain.
Research undertaken alongside health professionals and care providers
Based on observations throughout the study, the medical team believe that changes in the peripheral retina offer an association between the eye and the brain and how one can affect the other.
Through the use of ultra-wide field imaging, the team was able to determine distinct differences in the eyes of those with Alzheimer’s. Some of these eye changes include the development of ‘yellow spots’, also known as drusen, within the retinal images.
Drusen are small deposits of fat, protein and minerals which tend to form a layer underneath the retina as people age. Essentially, these deposits are harmless, but once they begin to accumulate and increase in size, this contributes to the degeneration of the retina and is a clear sign of neurodegenerative disease.
Imaging technology could indeed help determine the progression of the disease
Dr Lengyel believes that ultra-wide field imaging of the retina could help in the monitoring and progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
The medical study goes on to prove that eye imaging is a quick, simple and cost-effective way of monitoring Alzheimer’s when compared to costly and time-consuming brain scans. Although peripheral retinal imaging cannot be used as a diagnostic tool for determining Alzheimer’s, it can be used as a tool to closely monitor disease progression in the brain.
Essentially, this study has opened up a window into identifying high risk groups of people who could potentially develop neurodegenerative diseases, which makes prevention and development of these diseases far simpler and quicker.