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Study: Alzheimer’s key is eye

October 22, 2009|By Candice Baker

The scientific key to diagnosing and monitoring Alzheimer’s disease could be in the eyes, UC Irvine researchers say.

UCI neuroscientists have discovered that the retinas of laboratory mice, whose genes have been altered so they develop Alzheimer’s disease, experience changes similar to those in the brains of humans who have the disease.

In both the retinas and brains, there is an accumulation of amyloid plaque lesions, a hallmark of the disease in brain imaging tests.

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The scientists also discovered that when therapies for Alzheimer’s are tested in the mice genetically altered to have the disease, the resulting retinal changes could better show how the treatments work in humans than the traditional method of examining changes in mouse brain tissue.

UCI officials said in a news release that the findings will be crucial to developing retinal imaging technology that could help diagnose and treat people with Alzheimer’s, which also would be easier to perform than other tests.

The university said 5.3 million people in the United States alone suffer from the disease, which is the leading cause of elementary dementia.

“It’s important to discover the pathological changes before an Alzheimer’s patient dies,” said Zhiqun Tan, a UCI neuroscientist leading the research.

“Brain tissue isn’t transparent, but retinas are. I hope in the future we’ll be able to diagnose the disease and track its progress by looking into the eyes.”


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