Univ. of Minn. researchers test early Alzheimer's detection method

- Time becomes incredibly more valuable for those affected by Alzheimer’s disease. That is why University of Minnesota researchers are hopeful they may soon be able to unveil a first of its kind early detection method that is as simple as an eye exam.

“Everyone knows that a person who has Alzheimer’s usually has plaques that form in the brain and these plaques also form in the retina of the eye,” Dr. Robert Vince tells Fox 9.

Vince led a new study that explored technology designed to detect retinal changes linked to early Alzheimer’s disease. The detection method proved effective in mice.

The study was conducted by Vince and Dr. Swati More. Both are researchers in the University of Minnesota Center for Drug Design.

“We began by taking the retina of the eye to see if we can follow the process of plaque formation from beginning to plaque,” Vince said.

The study, published in the journal Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, explored the use of a camera to non-invasively study the retina and detect any signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

“We found that there were differences between normal retina and Alzheimer’s retina,” Vince said.

Early detection would also help develop treatment that would prevent cognitive damage.

“This technology is a non-invasive way to identify Alzheimer’s disease before plaque is formed,” Vince said.

The technique sounds promising to Roseville resident Kersten Warren.

Warren’s grandmother lost her life to Alzheimer’s when she was only 65.

“The ease of the process I think makes that information available to families a lot more easily than having to go through genetic testing or some of the other cognitive tests they do that are stressful for families or for people who have early signs of early cognitive impairment,” Warren told Fox 9.

Just last year Warren also lost her mother.

Warren’s mother, also considerably young, developed Alzheimer’s when she was only 50.

The disease claimed Warren’s mother’s life at 67.

“To think that something could’ve spared her from that and she could be here to enjoy my son’s baseball game tonight with the rest of the family," Warren said. "It means a lot to know there’s hope for other families out there that know this is in their family’s medical history as well."

Within a year’s time and support from the right developer an eye exam that would detect the early stages of Alzheimer’s could be a reality.

Human clinical trials on the early detection technique begin July 1.

Researchers are still looking for volunteers ages 40 to 75. They are hoping to recruit healthy volunteers and Alzheimer’s patients as old as 80 with proper consent. More details on the study can be found here

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