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2013 Grants - Whitson
Novel Retinal Biomarkers for Early Detection of Alzheimer's Disease
Heather Whitson, M.D., M.H.S.
Duke University Medical Center
Durham, North Carolina
2013 New Investigator Research Grant
Because Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disorder, dementia researchers have worked to develop methods for detecting Alzheimer's at its earliest stages. One part of the body, the retina of the eye, may develops characteristic damage in people with Alzheimer's very early in the disease process. Such damage includes the thinning of the retinal cell layer and the deposition of beta-amyloid, a protein fragment that is a key suspect in Alzheimer's.
For this grant, Heather Whitson, M.D., M.H.S., and colleagues hope to identify other changes in the retina that can accurately predict the development of dementia. For this effort, they will enroll 36 human participants: 12 with normal brain function, 12 with mild cognitive impairment (a condition often preceding Alzheimer's), and 12 with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's. Dr. Whitson's team will study the retinas of these individuals using newly developed optical imaging technology, which can visualize minute retinal changes with unprecedented clarity. They will then test whether certain kinds of retinal damage can be linked to the progression from normal brain health to dementia. Ultimately, the results of this work could lead to a cost-effective, non-invasive method of diagnosing Alzheimer's before clinical symptoms arise.