The eye as a window to the brain: tackling neurodegenerative disorders

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Leuven_Brown Eye Side View

This research is comprised of two distinct, but related projects that will investigate how retinal imaging can be used to screen for presymptomatic Alzheimer’s disease (AD). KU Leuven is the home institution for one project and the University of Melbourne will host the second. The collaboration will ensure the successful completion of the research goals.

The key research questions in this project are:

  • Can retinal imaging be used as a clinical screen for presymptomatic Alzheimer’s disease (AD)?
  • Conduct imaging of a cohort of middle- and older-aged adults at risk of AD
  • Conduct imaging and histopathological studies of AD-model mice

The graduate researcher on this project is Hana Kulenovic

Project description
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the leading cause of dementia, affecting 43,8 million people in 2016 and an estimated 130 million by 2050. The pathological changes of AD in the brain occur gradually over 20-30 years before the onset of symptoms and therapies are increasingly aimed at the preclinical stages of the disease.

Yet current methods to identify individuals with presymptomatic AD are expensive, invasive and not scalable at a population level. Retinal imaging offers an ideal solution, as the retina is part of the central nervous system and it manifests many of the pathological processes that occur in the brain in AD.

Our consortium brings together leading clinicians and scientists from Leuven and Melbourne with expertise in neuropathology, ophthalmology, imaging and artificial intelligence to validate multimodal retinal imaging biomarkers of AD.

The research project aims to establish whether retinal imaging, including hyperspectral retinal imaging, has clinical utility in screening for presymptomatic AD.

In Leuven, imaging will be undertaken of a well-phenotyped cohort of middle and older-aged adults at risk of AD. The project will also involve imaging and histopathological studies of AD-model mice to characterize the amyloid load/species that contribute to the hyperspectral imaging signature.

In Melbourne, the project will consist of an imaging study as part of the Healthy Brain Project, including state-of-the-art image analysis. This project seeks to transform the clinical management of AD through improved detection of the disease in the preclinical stages in a non-invasive, rapid and cost-effective manner.

Supervision team

KU Leuven participants:
Professor Ingeborg Stalmans, Dr Lies De Groef

University of Melbourne participants:
Associate Professor Peter van Wijngaarden, Dr Xavier Hadoux

Other joint PhD projects