New research by UCL scientist has revealed that a simple and economical eye test could soon be able to detect and diagnose major neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's, much before than is currently possible.
Led by Professors Francesca Cordeiro and Stephen Moss, the study puts forward a new technique that enables retinal, and therefore brain cell death, to be directly measured in real time.
The method, which was demonstrated in an animal model, could not only refine diagnosis of neurodegenerative disorders and help track disease progress, but it could also aid the assessment and development of new treatments.
The technique uses fluorescent markers that attach themselves to the relevant cells and indicate the stage of cell death.
The retina is then observed using a customised laser ophthalmoscope.
Until now, such technique has only been used in cells in the lab, rather than in live animals.
Thus, the study is the first ever in vivo demonstration of retinal nerve cell death in Alzheimer's Disease.
"The death of nerve cells is the key event in all neurodegenerative disorders - but until now it has not been possible to study cell death in real time. This technique means we should be able to directly observe retinal nerve cell death in patients, which has a number of advantages in terms of effective diagnosis. This could be critically important since identification of the early stages could lead to successful reversal of the disease progression with treatment," said Professor Cordeiro, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology.
"Currently, the biggest obstacle to research into new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases is the lack of a technique where the brain's response to new treatments can be directly assessed - this technique could potentially help overcome that," she added.
The researchers will be conducting their first patient trials later this year.
The study has been published in Cell Death and Disease.