Dr. Jean-Paul Soucy. Dr Soucy, in collaboration with Optina Diagnostics, has developed an eye test that could revolutionize the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia, affecting millions worldwide, with no cure available. Detecting AD earlier in its course could dramatically transform the design of clinical trials to test new treatments. Currently, PET (positron-emission tomography) imaging is done to confirm the presence of amyloid plaques as a condition for inclusion in such clinical studies. However, PET scans are costly, require injections of radioactive materials, and must be conducted in specialized medical centres.

Less invasive and less costly screening approaches will aid in early detection and could vastly impact
clinical trials and decrease costs associated with PET imaging.

The eye offers a natural window to the brain through the retina, the light-sensitive layer lining the interior of the eye, as it is an anatomical and developmental extension of the brain that remains accessible throughout the lifespan. Indeed, researchers have reported the presence of beta-amyloid (AB) plaques, a key biomarker in AD brains, in the retina of AD patients and mouse models of AD.

Dr. Soucy’s research team developed a new version of Optina Diagnostics’ Mydriatic Hyperspectral Retinal Camera (MHRC), part of its Retinal Deep PhenotypingTM platform, that can detect these plaques in the retina of asymptomatic individuals by using a simple, safe, and non-invasive eye test that is exceedingly more accessible than the PET scan technology currently in use. A machine learning algorithm was also developed to analyze the images.

The Brain Canada grant has allowed me and my co-investigators to create an academia-industry partnership bringing together state-of-the-art techniques which complement each other beautifully in the search for new diagnostic approaches to Alzheimer’s Disease. The potential of retinal scanning for amyloid deposition detection to be used earlier in the course of disease, and at a fraction of the cost and of the complexity of currently available approaches, could make it a true screening procedure, and this would have a major impact on the implementation of course-modifying therapies,” said Dr. Soucy.

This eye scan could revolutionize AD research and the development of effective therapeutics. It could aid in identifying who would benefit from treatment and whether a treatment is effective. To date, the development of pharmaceutical therapeutics is entirely derived from research using participants whose symptoms have already significantly progressed. This technology will enable researchers to enlist pre-symptomatic participants who are at risk for developing AD, facilitating the development of drugs targeting AD in its earliest stages, and providing the best hope for developing effective treatment and, ultimately, a cure for this devastating disease.

To date, the team has submitted two patent applications. In April of 2019, the retinal imaging platform received Breakthrough Device Designation from the USA FDA, which will streamline the market clearance and approval process to put the device to use in clinics. Then in April of 2020, it received 510(k) clearance from the FDA. This will allow for partnerships with eye clinics to conduct these eye scans in at risk populations.