Duke Team Studies Retina Scan as Potentially Groundbreaking Alzheimer's Biomarker

Friday, September 8, 2017

Duke Vitreoretinal Surgeons Sharon Fekrat, MD and Dilraj Grewal, MD in conjunction with Duke rising sophomore Bryce Polascik and Duke third year medical student Stephen Yoon, BS have kicked off a 6-month multidisciplinary, prospective, case-control study to determine whether early signs of dementia/cognitive impairment are indicated by the density of blood vessels in the eye and deeper in the retina. Duke Neurologist James Burke, MD, PhD and his team in the Duke Memory Disorder Clinic are collaborating  on this project.  

 The superficial and deep retinal vasculature of the eye is evaluated using the cutting edge, noninvasive optical coherence tomography angiography (OCT-A) on the Zeiss Cirrus 5000 with AngioPlex machine.

The OCT-A can be done in a few minutes without even dilating the pupil. In the images to the right of one set of identical 97 year old female twins, you can see the difference in the retinal vascular density  between the two, with the intact retinal vascular density on the left in the cognitively normal twin and the sparse retinal vascular density (more blue color) on the right in the twin with Alzheimer's Disease. The team proposes that retinal vascular density on OCT-A imaging may be used as a biomarker to diagnose Alzheimer's before a person develops symptoms.

The Duke team has already enrolled over 12 study patients and 6 control patients with a goal of at least 100 in each group. It has been a grass roots, unfunded effort thus far. The study would be even stronger with the addition of widefield fundus imaging and autofluorescence to further assess the differential changes in retinal vessel caliber. If anyone is interested in supporting their groundbreaking work, please contact Jillian Ream at 919-385-3100 or jillian.ream@duke.edu.