People Who Have Alzheimer’s Disease or Who Are at Risk: Better Testing


People Who Have Alzheimer’s Disease or Who Are at Risk: Better Testing


Alzheimer’s Disease is one of the most feared conditions associated with the aging process. For those already diagnosed with it, and those at risk to develop it by family history will be glad to know that some progress is being made in both early detection testing and in activities that seem to delay its onset.

It has been known that a substance known as beta-amyloid, which is a peptide of some of the amino acids that are involved in Alzheimer’s Disease as part of plaque formation within the brain, is involved in Alzheimer’s Disease and certain other dementias.

We know that mental stimulation, eating right and staying active can help us live longer and delay the onset and slow the progress of this dreaded disease. Now, preliminary studies are showing that early detection of this disease may soon be a reality.

Simpler and Less Expensive

Researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency, have released findings using curcumin, found in turmeric, a food spice of Asia, to bind with beta-amyloid in the retina.

The retina is the light-sensitive nerve-tissue layer within the eye that detects and transmits signals involving vision back into the brain. In embryology, the retina arises from the same type of tissue that forms the brain, and is in fact an outgrowth of the brain itself. In other words, the retina can be thought of as being a part of the brain itself.

Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease, people with mild cognitive impairment and a control group of healthy patients were scanned using positron emission tomography (PET) scanning to detect beta-amyloid in the brain. Then all individuals drank a proprietary curcumin supplement on their first visit to the testing location. On their second visit, their retinas were scanned for the presence of b-amyloid with the curcumin acting as a contrast medium to make the amyloid visible.

Preliminary results showed a significant correlation between b-amyloid in the brain (as shown with the PET scans) and that found in the retina. The curcumin works well and binds with the amyloid compound, it is safe for patients. In addition, doing a retina scan is easier and much less expensive to do than a PET scan and gave, at least at this early stage, no false-negative findings. False-negative findings present a picture of someone who is healthy and does not have Alzheimer’s when in fact they do, which means they get left behind in any early treatment protocol.

Testing done about three months later showed an increase of b-amyloid in the retina, which also correlated with PET findings, which make it a candidate for a means of monitoring progression and any response to treatment.

The retina scans could be used as a preliminary method of screening for Alzheimer’s Disease that then could be followed by more comprehensive testing for cognitive function and b-amyloid plaques in the brain.

Immediate Results

A second study, by investigators from Cognoptix in Acton, MA, has shown that a fluorescent molecule delivered to the eye in the form of a sterile ointment, will diffuse overnight into the lens inside the eye, where it can be seen using a proprietary laser imaging device.

The study included twenty individuals who have probably mild to moderate AD and twenty healthy, age-matched control participants. All forty participants had PET amyloid brain imaging which was used to compare with the findings from the device.

The ointment is applied to the eye and left to diffuse into the eye overnight, followed by scanning with the laser the next day. The results showed a high correlation between the groups with and without impairment and that amyloid levels in the crystalline lens did the same.

The scan is very quick (less than one second), easy to administer and can compute a score for the amount of fluorescence uptake within five minutes or so. It, also, is much less expensive than PET scanning.

Summing Up

Early detection of Alzheimer’s Disease is important, for both patient and those responsible for their care. It has already been shown that activities such as playing video games and mental stimulation in general can slow the disease process.

While there is no “magic-bullet” cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, research is heading in that direction, so it makes sense to find ways to detect it early on. The more we find out about this disease and other dementias, the more we see that its progression can at least be slowed. When we get to a treatment that works, the testing devices will already be in place.

It may not be all that long before that day will come.

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