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Detecting early Alzheimer’s might be easier with new retinal imaging technology

Researchers are testing a new device that may make it easier to detect and diagnose Alzheimer's disease early.

PORT ORANGE, Fla. — An estimated 6.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. There is no cure, few effective treatments and the only way to diagnose Alzheimer’s is with an expensive PET scan or a painful lumbar puncture, which measures spinal fluid. Now, researchers are testing a new device that may make testing easier and may lead to a diagnosis earlier.

John and Sylvia Whitley play the popular web-based word game Wordle every day. Today, the letters come easily, but this couple knows that might not last. Ten years ago, the Whitleys were caring for Sylvia’s mom with dementia and started noticing changes in themselves.

“Recalling names became more and more difficult over time,” John recalled.

“I saw one of my closest friends. I saw her several times a week and I had no idea what her name was," Sylvia remembered.

The couple had spinal fluid tests at Emory University. Sylvia had markers for Alzheimer’s, but John did not. But after 58 years of marriage, each knew the other was struggling with memory. They both have had PET scans now. John was eligible for a clinical trial, testing a new way of detecting early signs of Alzheimer’s so, if needed, patients can begin treatment.

The RetiSpec is an investigational device. It’s a special camera that can take 100 layered images of the retina.

“Then, they have artificial intelligence that reviews those images and can see the buildup of the amyloid plaque on the retina," Progressive medical researcher Richard Marshall, PA said.  

Researchers are currently testing the RetiSpec’s accuracy. Earlier studies showed RetiSpec was between 80 and 90 percent accurate.

“If there's anything out there that we can find for us to help other people, we wanna be part of it," Sylvia said.

Although Sylvia Whitley was not eligible for the test of the RetiSpec, she said her doctors are actively searching for other clinical trials in which she could be a participant. 

The researchers say the ultimate goal, after FDA approval, is to have the RetiSpec cameras installed in eye doctor’s offices, making the technology more widely available.

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