Presently, for a definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, doctors have to perform a PET scan of patients' brains. Not only is it expensive, but it also requires the patient to be injected with radioactive tracers. Soon, however, a simple eye scan may be all that's required – and it could catch the disease sooner than ever before.

Considered to be one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's, plaques made up of a protein known as beta-amyloid form in victims' brains, where they damage and destroy brain cells. These plaques are what the PET scans are looking for.

However, building on a previous study, a team from the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center has discovered that these same protein deposits also occur on the retina (in the back of the eye) – the amount of plaque found there correlates with the amount of plaque in specific areas of the brain. That said, the eye scans should be able to detect the condition years before patients experience any actual symptoms.

In a clinical trial, 16 Alzheimer's disease patients underwent a non-invasive eye exam, after first drinking a solution containing curcumin, which is found in turmeric. The curcumin caused the amyloid plaque in their retinas to light up, so it could be detected. When their scans were compared to those of a healthy control group, the connection between plaques in the retina and the brain was established.

"Our hope is that eventually the investigational eye scan will be used as a screening device to detect the disease early enough to intervene and change the course of the disorder with medications and lifestyle changes," says Dr. Keith L. Black, co-leader of the study.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal JCI Insight.

Source: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center