A simple eye test can help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease at a premature stage and prevent its growth, British scientists have claimed.

Scientists at the University College London (UCL) have developed a method that highlights nerve cell damage in the retina of the eye which correlates exactly to nerve cell damage in the brain.

“Few people realise that the retina is a direct, albeit thin, extension of the brain. It is entirely possible that in the future, a visit to a high-street optician to check on your eyesight will also be a check on the state of your brain,” said lead author Professor Francesca Cordeiro.

The non-invasive and cheap test, which has been performed on animals and is undergoing human trials, involves applying a chemical marker and then taking a photo with an infra-red camera, Cordeiro said.

Once the marker is in the body it seeks out dying nerve cells and chemically marks them. These marks appear as dots in the photo taken using an infrared camera.

If the dot count is more than 20, it is an indicator of the early onset of the disease, Cordeiro wrote in the journal Cell Death & Disease.

Once diagnosed, treatment could begin immediately. The marker can either be administered as an injection in the arm or as an eye-drop, Cordeiro was quoted as saying by The Telegraph.

Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is critical in order to stop and reverse the cell death before it is too late. Once brains cells are dead there is no way to revive them. If you catch Alzheimer’s Disease early enough you can slow it down and even reinvigorate the cells,” said Cordeiro.

The death of nerve cells is the key event in all neuro-degenerative disorders, but until now it has not been possible to study cell death in a living eye.

“This research is very exciting as it opens up the possibility of observing individual cells on the human retina using a relatively non-invasive procedure,” said Susanne Sorensen, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society in UK.

In the longer term, this technique could be used for diagnostic purposes or to help researchers monitor the effects of drugs under development, Sorensen said adding, “However, much more research needs to be done before we know if we can get to this stage“.

If human trials of the technique are successful, it would be available within two years

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