The Centre for Eye Research Australia (CERA) will fast-track research to develop a simple eye test to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, supported by new grants from the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, Perpetual’s IMPACT Philanthropy Application Program and the National Foundation for Medical Research and Innovation.
The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF) will provide more than AU$600,000 to support the research as part of its Diagnostics Accelerator program. It is one of the first four projects worldwide to be announced for the inaugural round of funding.
It is one of the first four projects worldwide to be announced for the inaugural round of funding
The ADDF’s Diagnostics Accelerator is a partnership of funders including ADDF Co-Founder Leonard Lauder, Bill Gates, Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, the Dolby family, and the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, among others, to develop novel biomarkers and diagnostics for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
The funding will enable Melburnians to participate in a world-first trial of eye scans based on imaging technology similar to that used in NASA satellites.
Deposition of a protein, known as amyloid beta, in the brain over many years is a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease and recent research indicates that it also accumulates in the retina at the back of the eye. Using specialised colour imaging, cameras developed by the team at CERA will measure the amyloid beta in the retina many years before symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease appear.
The technology was developed by Associate Professor Peter van Wijngaarden and Dr Xavier Hadoux from CERA and the University of Melbourne.
Associate Professor van Wijngaarden said the approach has the potential to revolutionise the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
It could also accelerate research efforts to delay, prevent, or even cure, the disease, as scientists take a more targeted and less invasive approach to testing new drugs and treatments for those most at risk.
“We hope to develop a simple, non-invasive test that can identify people at risk of the disease and open the way to new treatments and hopefully a cure,’’ he said.
“Current tests for Alzheimer’s disease are expensive and invasive. Not only are they out of the financial reach of most health care systems, their cost and limited availability make the testing of new treatments much more difficult, slowing down the pace of discovery.’’
The eye test will be offered to volunteers in the Healthy Brain Project, an innovative study of healthy middle-aged adults with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease that aims to identify risk factors.
The research brings leading eye researchers together with Healthy Brain Project investigators, neuropsychologist Dr Yen Ying Lim, of the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, and neurologist Dr Nawaf Yassi, of the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
“Ultimately we would hope this technology will be used to identify people at high risk of Alzheimer’s disease who may need to go on to the next wave of treatments so that they may never develop the disease,’’ Associate Professor van Wijngaarden said.
Associate Professor van Wijngaarden also paid credit to a group of generous Australian philanthropists, including Baillieu Myer, Samantha Baillieu and Jeanne Pratt for supporting the research in its early stages.
“They had the vision to back an idea out of left field. We are delighted to receive further generous support from the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation to bring the technology to the clinic and patients.”
Associate Professor van Wijngaarden has also received $200,000 from the H&L Hecht Trust managed by Perpetual to support the project, as well as a $250,000 grant from the National Foundation for Medical Research and Innovation to develop a retinal camera prototype and undertake clinical studies to validate the technology.