Noninvasive Optical Imaging of Retina developed at Cedars-Sinai Detects Early Alzheimer’s Changes

A noninvasive optical imaging device developed at Cedars-Sinai can provide early detection of changes that will occur in the brain and are a classic sign of Alzheimer's disease, according to preliminary results from investigators conducting a clinical trial in Australia.

"In preliminary results in 40 patients, the test could differentiate between Alzheimer's disease and non-Alzheimer's disease with 100% sensitivity and 80.6% specificity, meaning that all people with the disease tested positive and most of the people without the disease tested negative. The optical imaging exam appears to detect changes that occur 15 to 20 years before clinical diagnosis. It's a practical exam that could allow testing of new therapies at an earlier stage, increasing our chances of altering the course of Alzheimer's disease," says Shaun Frost, a biomedical scientist and the study manager at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia's national science agency.

"The retina, unlike other structures of the eye, is part of the central nervous system, sharing many characteristics of the brain,” says Keith Black, MD, a professor and chair of Cedars-Sinai's department of neurosurgery, “A few years ago, we discovered at Cedars-Sinai that the plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease occur not only in the brain but also in the retina. By ‘staining' the plaque with curcumin, a component of the common spice turmeric, we could detect it in the retina even before it began to accumulate in the brain. The device we developed enables us to look through the eye—just as an ophthalmologist looks through the eye to diagnose retinal disease—and see these changes."

This clinical trial was designed to enable researchers to correlate retinal plaque detected by optical imaging with brain plaque detected by PET scans. Studies involved patients diagnosed with Alzheimer's, a group with mild cognitive impairment, and a group of people with no evidence of brain abnormality.

The Australian study is one of several in progress to confirm or refute preclinical studies that utilized optical imaging in this way.