Alzheimer's disease early in the retina

Alzheimer's disease early in the retina

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Retina as a biomarker for Alzheimer's?

An early diagnosis of Alzheimer's is extremely important because so far no cure but only a delay in the course of the disease can be achieved. According to a recent study, the measurement of the thickness and texture of the various layers of the retina can apparently be used for the early detection of Alzheimer's.

In the current study by the research group led by Professor Adam Wax from Duke University, the structure of the retinal layers was identified as a possible biomarker for Alzheimer's that could indicate the development of the disease at an early stage. The results of the study were published in the scientific reports published in English.

Newly developed device combines two measurements

The researchers at Duke University have successfully developed a new imaging device that can measure both the thickness and the texture of the various layers of the retina in the back of the eye. For this, two different types of measurement were combined.

Will the results lead to a new screening device?

"Previous research has shown retinal thinning in Alzheimer's patients, but by adding light scattering technology to the measurement, we found that the retinal nerve fiber layer is also rougher and more disordered," study author Professor Adam Wax of Duke University said in a press release. The researchers hope that these findings can be used to develop a simple and inexpensive screening device for Alzheimer's that can be used not only in medical practices, but also in local pharmacies.

Early diagnosis of Alzheimer's is a challenge

Currently, diagnoses of Alzheimer's disease are made only when a person begins to show symptoms of cognitive decline. Even then, Alzheimer's can only be definitely proven as a cause by expensive MRI and PET examinations. Biomarkers that can be used as early warning signs of the disease are therefore urgently needed.

Alzheimer's can cause structural changes in the retina

Such potential biomarkers are found in the retina, which is literally an extension of the brain and part of the central nervous system, the research team reports. Previous research has already shown that Alzheimer's can cause structural changes in the retina, particularly thinning of the inner layers of the retina.

How the retina can indicate Alzheimer's

"The retina can provide easy access to the brain, and its thinning may indicate a decrease in the amount of neural tissue that can mean Alzheimer's," explains Professor Wax. But other diseases such as glaucoma and Parkinson's can also contribute to thinning the retina. And there is a risk of inconsistent test results due to differences in measurements with different devices or the way in which they are used by researchers.

Study was done on mice

In the current investigation, it has now been found that the top layer of the neurons in the retina of mice with Alzheimer's has a change in its structural texture. In combination with data on changes in the thickness of this layer, a relatively easily measurable biomarker for Alzheimer's could be derived from this, the researchers report.

Combination of measurements is a key innovation

The new approach is based on a measurement of the roughness and texture of the nerve fiber layer of the inner retina. This can provide a quick and direct way to identify structural changes caused by Alzheimer's that can be used as biomarkers of the disease, the researchers report. By combining two different measurements, information about the thickness and structure of each retinal layer could be obtained. This is a real key innovation.

Intervention possible earlier?

By identifying early signs of neurodegenerative diseases, people might be able to help quickly get started on an early intervention program before it is too late, the research group explains. With Alzheimer's in particular, it is very important to take action against the disease as early as possible in order to maintain the quality of life of the sick person and to slow the progress of the disease as much as possible. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Ge Song, Zachary A. Steelman, Stella Finkelstein, Ziyun Yang, Ludovic Martin et al .: Multimodal Coherent Imaging of Retinal Biomarkers of Alzheimer’s Disease in a Mouse Model, in Scientific Reports (published May 13, 2020), Scientific Reports
  • Retinal Texture Could Provide Early Biomarker Of Alzheimer’s Disease, Duke University (Published May 14, 2020), Duke University

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