Researchers at the University of Rhode Island, Butler Hospital and BayCare Health System have collaborated to launch retinal scanning tests for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.

Morton Plant Mease Health Care Foundation and St Anthony’s Hospital Foundation provided funds for this five year, $5m Atlas of Retinal Imaging in Alzheimer’s Study (ARIAS).

Researchers claim that the simple retinal screening test could be more cost-effective compared to the current positron emission tomography scans, which can detect amyloid plaque in the brain, associated with Alzheimer’s before symptoms appear.

Snyder said: “When our study is completed, we want to make the technology available so that optometrists and ophthalmologists could screen for the retinal biomarkers we believe are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and watch them over time.

“If clinicians see changes, they could refer their patients to specialists early on. We believe this could significantly lower the cost of testing. We may then identify more people in the very earliest stage of the disease, and our drug therapies are likely to be more effective at that point and before decades of slow disease progression.”

The ARIAS study will focus on preclinical stage disease detection, considering the retina as a complex biological system, enabling the researchers to observe the retina in several different manners at the same time.

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Through lasers, pictures of the retinas of participants can provide a microscopic look at the anatomy, changes in pigment chemicals and the movement of red blood cells in the retina.

Researchers will enrol 330 participants between the ages of 55 and 80, ranging from very healthy and low-risk adults to persons with concerns regarding their memory, as well as patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease.

Each participant will be examined at four different periods for over three years.

Each study visit consists of an eye exam, a medical history discussion, tests on how well individuals remember new information, retinal imaging and measures of mood, walking and balancing and sleep habits.