Volunteers sought for Alzheimer's study

Top News | Sum Lok-kei 8 Sep 2017

Chinese University is looking for 100 volunteers to participate in the world's first study of retinal imaging to detect early signs of Alzheimer's disease among the Chinese population.

Data collected over the next two years from the screening for early Alzheimer's disease study will be used to support generalizing the new screening technique.

According to CUHK, one in 10 Hong Kong adults aged 70 or above suffers from dementia, with the ratio rising to as many as three in 10 among those 85 or older.

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer's accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases.

CUHK neurology expert Vincent Mok Chung-tong, who heads the study, said retinal imaging can detect early Alzheimer's in patients with mild symptoms of dementia, such as forgetfulness.

This is beneficial as patients with mild symptoms are unlikely to seek help from doctors, he said. "The earlier we can detect the disease, the earlier we can intervene," Mok added.

The team is hoping to get 100 local adults aged 50 to 80, comprising 60 patients with mild cognitive impairment, 20 with Alzheimer's, and 20 healthy individuals.

These patients will undergo a series of clinical assessments, including cognitive and blood tests, brain MRI and retina imaging.

One of the tell-tale signs of Alzheimer's is the accumulation of amyloid plaque inside the brain, Mok said. Amyloid is a type of protein that is toxic to neurons in the brain.

Traditional methods to detect early amyloid plaque, including lumbar puncture and amyloid-positron- emission tomography scan, are invasive and sometimes not easily accessible, he said.

While lumber puncture is a common procedure that "hurts a little more" than drawing blood, Mok said a patient will have to lie down on a bed for four to six hours afterwards. Amyloid PET scans cost about HK$20,000, and is only available at one hospital in Hong Kong.

Retinal imaging costs about HK$2,000, and most of the machines capable of doing the test are already available at various ophthalmology clinics. Through retina imaging, doctors can check for the thinning of the retina and misshaped blood vessels that are signs of Alzheimer's disease.

Should a patient be detected with early stage Alzheimer's, Mok said it can be managed through lifestyle factors such as diet and exercising.

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