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Novel Retinal Biomarkers for Alzheimer’s Disease

Principal Investigator:
  • Mirza Faisal Beg, Simon Fraser University
Team Members:
  • Ging-Yuek Hsiung, University of British Columbia
  • Marinko Sarunic, Simon Fraser University
  • Joanne Matsubara, University of British Columbia
  • Alan Evans, Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, McGill University
  • Gregory Mori, Simon Fraser University
  • Jinko Graham, Simon Fraser University
  • Paul Mackenzie, University of British Columbia
  • Andrew Merkur, University of British Columbia
  • Ian Mackenzie, University of British Columbia
  • Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research
  • Genome BC
  • Pacific Alzheimer Research Foundation

Project Overview

Individuals with Alzheimer’s suffer severe memory loss over time, and eventually are completely dependent on caregivers. Age is a significant risk factor, and the longer we live, the higher the chances of getting Alzheimer’s. Detecting the beginning of Alzheimer’s in an individual’s brain in the early stages is difficult as the changes in behavior are subtle and hidden. Individuals seek help at a dementia clinic when they are unable to ignore their lapses in memory and thinking. At this stage, tests of memory and reasoning used for diagnosis cannot be certain that symptoms are due to Alzheimer’s as other types of dementia may also show similar symptoms. Proper diagnosis is the key to successful treatment.

Imaging can show that a brain is filled with a protein called amyloid, which accumulates beyond normal limits in Alzheimer’s. However, brain imaging exams for amyloid are expensive, can be invasive, and not easily available, hence cannot be used for general screening.

The eye forms from the same tissue from which the brain forms, and they remain connected. Some studies have suggested that amyloid also accumulates in the retina of individuals with Alzheimer’s, but this has not been proven. For this project, Mirza Faisal Beg and his team formed of very complementary and diverse expertise in engineering, statistics, vision research, neurology and neuropathology are developing a new retina imaging device using laser light that can show amyloid in the retina. They will test this device in the mouse model of Alzheimer’s and in Alzheimer’s patients. Their work could lead to an inexpensive retina exam that could be used to screen everyone on a regular basis for the earliest signs of amyloid in the retina indicative of Alzheimer’s. This would save the health care system money and lead to better treatment outcomes.