Keeping an eye on dementia predictors

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Another Translational Research Group within the Centre for Dementia Prevention is progressing well with discussions on how to utilise ophthalmology research in dementia prevention. The Ophthalmology Translational Research Group (OTRG) is led by Tom MacGillivray and Bal Dhillon and the role of the group is to facilitate the development of eye imaging in the field of dementia research.

For instance, imaging the back of the eye could help to identify people who have early signs of dementia as the retina is essentially an extension to the brain sharing a blood supply and nerve tissue. We believe worsening brain health manifests in the retina through tell-tale markers that can be identified through non-invasive imaging. People are increasingly familiar with the technology as it is commonly used to check eye health at the high street optician. Much of the efforts of the OTRG are about how images from these machines can be used in new ways.

If we can pin down retinal biomarkers derived from imaging then this would help to enable treatment of the disease before the brain is irreversibly damaged. It could also, in conjunction with other tests, help to identify people who are most at risk of developing dementia later in life while they are still in reasonably good health. This would allow doctors to keep an ‘eye’ on particular individuals, and intervene when the disease looks to be progressing (which would be before the more serious symptoms of declining mental ability start to show).

We’ve had two fantastic meetings where experts from Edinburgh and Dundee exchanged knowledge and information on available facilities, access to imaging machines, expertise on image analysis and data analysis, and existing datasets that can be utilised for further scientific investigation. The Centre for Dementia Prevention is also contributing to this through inclusion of eye imaging and tests in our flagship studies, e.g. the EPAD study and the PREVENT Research Programme.

Brainstorming ideas for future collaborative work, including grant applications to fund the next generation of eye researchers, has already started. We’re looking forward to meeting again soon to move things forward and progress the contribution of eye imaging, such as helping to make the predicting of decline more accurate for people at risk of developing worsening brain health.