Using a simple eye test, Australian researchers believe they may be able to detect Alzheimer’s disease as many as 20 years before symptoms are apparent.
Although the cause of Alzheimer’s is unknown, it is tied to the development of beta-amyloids, a kind of protein, in the brain.
For the study, Dr. Shaun Frost introduced curcumin, a natural substance that will attach to beta-amyloids, into the diet of 200 volunteers.
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So far, 40 people have been tested. When he looked at their eyes using a specialized camera, Frost was able to determine with 100 percent accuracy the patients who had Alzheimer’s because the beta-amyloids showed up on the camera.
The test can determine a “retinal amyloid index” for each patient, and Frost hopes that someday it could be given at routine eye doctor visits.
"What makes it unique is that the retina is actually an extension of the brain and so we think that a lot of the pathology that is occurring in the brain may also be occurring in the retina," Dr. James Galvin, a New York neurologist, told CBS News
Although the test doesn’t do anything toward curing the disease, the Alzheimer’s Association said identifying the disease earlier, maybe even before symptoms appear, would be helpful.
“In the face of the growing worldwide Alzheimer’s disease epidemic, there is a pressing need for simple, less invasive diagnostic tests that will identify the risk of Alzheimer’s much earlier in the disease process,” Heather Snyder, the Alzheimer’s Association director of Medical and Scientific Operations, said in a release. “This is especially true as Alzheimer’s researchers move treatment and prevention trials earlier in the course of the disease.”
Galvin told CBS that finding the disease at earlier stages might aid in developing new therapies.
The Australian researchers presented their study at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Denmark this week. Also presented there was information about a smell test that might help in diagnosing Alzheimer’s.
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