Funding to fast-track eye test for Alzheimer's
The Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) will fast-track research to develop a simple eye test to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, after receiving more than $600,000 from a major coalition of American philanthropists.
The funding is being provided by the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) as part of its Diagnostics Accelerator program — a partnership of funders including ADDF co-founder Leonard Lauder, Bill Gates, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, the Dolby family and the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, among others, to develop novel biomarkers and diagnostics for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. The CERA research is one of the first four projects worldwide to be announced for the inaugural round of funding.
Deposition of a protein, known as amyloid beta, in the brain over many years is a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease and recent research indicates that it also accumulates in the retina at the back of the eye. Using specialised colour imaging, similar to that used in NASA satellites, cameras developed by the team at CERA will measure the amyloid beta in the retina many years before symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease appear.
The technology was co-developed by Associate Professor Peter van Wijngaarden, who said the approach has the potential to revolutionise the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. It could also accelerate research efforts to delay, prevent or even cure the disease, as scientists take a more targeted and less invasive approach to testing new drugs and treatments for those most at risk.
“Current tests for Alzheimer’s disease are expensive and invasive,” he said. “Not only are they out of the financial reach of most healthcare systems, their cost and limited availability make the testing of new treatments much more difficult, slowing down the pace of discovery.
“We hope to develop a simple, non-invasive test that can identify people at risk of the disease and open the way to new treatments and hopefully a cure.”
The eye test will be offered to Melbourne-based volunteers in the Healthy Brain Project, a study of healthy middle-aged adults with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease that aims to identify risk factors. The project thus brings leading eye researchers together with Healthy Brain Project investigators.
“Ultimately we would hope this technology will be used to identify people at high risk of Alzheimer’s disease who may need to go on to the next wave of treatments so that they may never develop the disease,” Assoc Prof van Wijngaarden said.
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