Toronto researchers study how eyes may be window into brain disease

By Wency Leung

Toronto researchers are testing a technique they say has the potential to be a painless, easy and economical way of identifying the growing number of individuals affected by the neurodegenerative disease – one that consists of a simple eye exam.

Using a specialized camera and software that analyzes how light reflects off the back of a person’s eye, they believe they may be able to detect patterns specific to Alzheimer’s disease even before symptoms develop, including signs of the presence of amyloid, a toxic protein characteristic of the disease.

“Changes in the brain are also visible in the back of the eye,” said Sharon Cohen, behavioural neurologist and director of the Toronto Memory Program, which is testing the retinal scan. “The cells in the brain are mirrored in the back of the eye. The blood vessels in the back of the eye are also similar in characteristics to what’s going on in the brain.”

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