A recent study by researchers from the Duke Eye Center shows that OCT angiography can detect signs of Alzheimer’s disease in seconds.
The researchers found that the small blood vessels in the retina are altered in patients with Alzheimer’s.
Primary Care Optometry News interviewed American Optometric Association spokesperson Michael Duenas, OD, about the impact this research will have on eye care now and in the future. The AOA and others have collaborated with the Alzheimer’s Association to explore this growing area of retinal imaging in Alzheimer’s disease.
PCON: In what ways will these findings impact eye care or eye care delivery now and in the future?
Duenas: This paper, by Sharon Fekrat, MD, lends additional credence to OCT angiography, or OCTA, a newer form of OCT that visualizes retinal vasculature, including the supporting choroidal vasculature, as a potential means for determining early Alzheimer’s disease. This supports the need for routine comprehensive eye care by doctors of optometry, the providers to whom this technology is most accessible.
PCON: What clinical pearls would you like optometrists to gain from learning about the study?
Duenas: Doctors of optometry should be aware that the more traditional form of OCT is also being readied to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. These biomarkers include but are not limited to amyloid-beta signatures in the retina, neuronal degeneration and nerve fiber layer thinning.
PCON: Do you have any advice for optometrists who have access to OCTA?
Duenas: Doctors of optometry with OCTA are on the leading cusp of ocular and systemic disease detection and should stay vigilant for all opportunities to advance this knowledge. This includes attending conferences and meetings and becoming involved in clinical research projects. If interested in becoming clinical research sites, they should inform the manufacturer of their interest and contact schools and colleges of optometry who may be contemplating translation research activities.
PCON: In 5 or 10 years, do you think optometry could have a bigger role in Alzheimer’s management or prevention? What might that look like?
Duenas: Doctors of optometry already have a huge role in early detection of systemic disease, as 276 systemic diseases already have known ocular components that can be detected during a comprehensive eye exam. This list includes many brain-related diseases, apart from Alzheimer’s, including, but not limited to: raised intracranial pressure, pituitary tumor, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, thyroid dysfunction, meningioma and brain aneurysm.
In 5 to 10 years the list will include Alzheimer’s and grow the responsibility of optometry within team-based medical Alzheimer’s care.
Within the next 5 to 10 years health care systems will respond by making optometry services more accessible, and multisectors (ie, economic, environment, housing) will become involved, all because vision and eye health will more and more equate to overall population health and community sustainability.
The American Optometric Association and others have collaborated with the Alzheimer’s Association and the University of Rhode Island to explore this exciting and growing area of retinal imaging in Alzheimer’s disease. A workshop to advance the application of these technologies for larger clinical trials and diagnostic uses is set for May 22 and 23 in Washington. – Interviewed by Abigail Sutton
Disclosure: Duenas is spokesperson for the AOA.