Alzheimer’s Disease Peep Show
Forget PET scans and biomarker analyses. Could a simple eye exam be used to diagnose and stage this debilitating neurological disease?
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) represents a unique challenge to researchers and clinicians – and society in general. There are a number of factors at play: much like glaucoma, it’s predominantly an age-related disease with symptoms that start to appear only after significant damage has occurred. Like with age-related macular degeneration, the societal problems are stark: caring for these patients is healthcare resource-intensive; the baby boomer generation is now getting to the age where AD is affecting large numbers of them, and this is a trend that’s set to continue for decades yet.
But unlike either eye disease, objectively diagnosing and staging AD is a huge challenge. The current standard of care is essentially documenting mental decline, and biomarker assays of the blood, urine and cerebrospinal fluid are still in the research stage. Positron emission tomography scans using radioactive tracers can take a peek at β-amyloid buildup in the brain – but that’s expensive and not always conclusive. A biopsy of the hippocampus would likely be definitive – but that’s really only available at autopsy. A reliable, objective early diagnostic tool is a huge currently unmet need for patients with AD – and would be welcomed by researchers who are attempting to develop drugs to slow or stop progression.
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