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The eye as window to the brain

Advanced retinal scans to detect Alzheimer’s disease

We are developing an advanced eye camera to scan the retina, the most accessible part of our central nervous system, to detect signs of neurodegenerative diseases long before the first symptoms. Earlier diagnosis via the eye is sensitive and non-invasive, and will allow us to follow disease progression over time, provide better individualized patient care, and evaluate the success of new therapies in clinical studies.

Experts

Coordinator

Ingeborg Stalmans (UZ Leuven)

Partners

Lieve Moons and Lies De Groef (KU Leuven)

Karel Van Keer (UZ Leuven)

Rik Vandenberghe (UZ Leuven)

Mathieu Vandenbulcke (UZ Leuven)

Bart De Strooper (VIB-KU Leuven)

Dietmar Thal (UZ Leuven)

Matthew Blaschko (KU Leuven)

Murali Jayapala (imec)

Eliav Shaked (RetiSpec)

Peter van Wijngaarden (CERA)

 

Why

One of the major reasons for the high failure rate of Alzheimer’s drugs is that we lack techniques to screen people at risk and diagnose the disease at an early stage. Interventions are likely to be most effective when given early, since once neurodegeneration has started and neurons are lost, the damage is irreversible. We need a much better way to identify patients before they display symptoms, so that we can recruit them to clinical studies.

How

Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the abnormal production of a protein called amyloid-beta in the brain. This protein exists in small particles that have toxic effects on brain cells and clump together in ‘plaques’. Investigations in Alzheimer’s disease models and donated eyes from deceased patients indicate that increasing amounts of amyloid-beta are also present in the retina as the disease progresses. As a ‘window to the brain’, the retina may open the door to early diagnosis. 

We are developing and implementing a type of eye camera that uses a special method called ‘hyperspectral imaging’. The tool is very sensitive and able to accurately visualize and measure the amounts of amyloid-beta in the retina. The method is not invasive and can be integrated in a routine eye examination.

Retinal imaging will not only allow to detect Alzheimer’s at an early disease stage, but also to follow disease progression over time and evaluate the success of new therapies.

Ingeborg Stalmans - ophthalmologist (UZ Leuven)

Partners

imec | KU Leuven | UZ Leuven | VIB | VITO | RetiSpec

Publications