Two different research groups have found techniques that might be able to catch Alzheimer's early using routine eye exams. This is great news because many doctors believe that finding the disease early is a key to treating it.
The studies test patients with and without Alzheimer's and were able to accurately detect healthy patients and those with the disease.
In both studies, scientists looked for signs of beta-amyloid protein, which forms clumps in the brains of Alzheimer's patients and is a key hallmark of the disease.
In one study, an Australian team used one of the ingredients in turmeric to track the protein. Curcumin binds with the protein, so doctors can see it in a patient's retina. The other study was done by an American company called Cognoptix Inc and put an ointment on subjects' eyes to track the same protein in an eye's lens.
The studies worked. PET scans showed the amount of protein found in the eye tests matched the amount of protein in a patient's brain.
The tests are fairly simple and could be performed at regular eye exams. If patients show signs of Alzheimer's, these tests can warn them early, so they can get more expensive tests to verify the diagnosis. The earlier the disease is caught, the better, so these studies are a big step in the right direction.