The eyes have it: Macquarie University among first in the world to receive eye camera for the early detection of Alzheimer’s

5 January 2017

  • MQ Health and Edith Cowan University are the first in NSW and WA to have access to a camera that can screen for pre-clinical Alzheimer’s via a non-invasive retinal imaging scan, in a single visit.
    Early detection currently requires multiple clinical visits, is invasive and often expensive, and involves analysis of brain and spinal cord fluid as well as advanced metabolic imaging.
  • The NASA-inspired technology could also be used to identify other disorders, such as age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy, as well as monitor response to treatment.

Researchers at Macquarie University’s MQ Health and Edith Cowan University will be the first in New South Wales and Western Australia, respectively, to have access to a retinal-scanning camera that can identify a protein in the brain called beta-amyloid, known to be an indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.

Professor of Neurobiology at Macquarie University in Sydney, and Foundation Professor of Ageing and Alzheimer’s disease at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Ralph Martins, and his retinal imaging team, will use the hyperspectral camera to develop an eye test for the screening of Alzheimer’s disease within the population. This test will be in the form of a single visit, label-free, non-invasive retinal imaging scan and has the potential to become the new gold standard in screening for Alzheimer’s.

The current gold standard for identifying biological markers of Alzheimer’s disease include positron emission tomography (PET) for brain amyloid imaging and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis. Both PET amyloid imaging and CSF analysis can detect Alzheimer’s disease 15-20 years before clinical onset. However, both of these approaches are either expensive and invasive and not widely available which preclude them from routine clinical use – hence the need for alternate screening options.

“We know that many people fear Alzheimer’s as they get older, and that an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be devastating for those who learn they have developed the disease, as well as their loved ones,” said Professor Martins. “There is a real demand within the community for it to be possible to detect Alzheimer’s early, and in a relatively simple, non-invasive way.

“We need a reliable, and more readily accessible, sensitive biological marker to make early diagnosis possible in order for therapeutic interventions to be effective.

“Having access to these cameras gives us the real potential to explore the identification of a protein in the brain called beta-amyloid, known to be linked to Alzheimer’s, that can be viewed in the eye well before the onset of memory impairment,” explains Professor Martins.

The NASA-inspired technology allows non-invasive localisation of structures and biological molecules in the retina using their specific spectral signatures. At present, this feature is not available in other commercially available retinal cameras.

Professor Martins explains that the eyes are critical in understanding brain function and that the camera could identify other disorders, such as age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy. Importantly, the camera could also have applications in the monitoring of patient response
to new, and future, therapies.

“The human eye, specifically the retina, is a central nervous system tissue sharing the same embryological origin and vasculature. Being the only extension of the central nervous system that is not encased in skull, it also allows for non-invasive visualisation of neural integrity,” said Professor Martins.

“For example, cerebral pathology is reflected in the eye in CNS disorders such as stroke, Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease and have been used for their prediction, diagnosis and prognosis.”

In addition to his work at Edith Cowan University, at MQ Health Professor Martins continues his longstanding work in understanding and combatting Alzheimer’s disease under MQ Health’s new model.

“The newly formed MQ Health, with its world class facilities and drive to connect clinical research to better patient outcomes, is vital to the success of projects like this one,” said Professor Martins.

“At MQ Health, I’m proud to work alongside some of the nation’s best researchers, clinicians and academics to translate discoveries into best practice to improve care for current and future patients.”

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