Researchers are investigating whether a simple eye test could be used to identify the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
A three-year £1.1m project will look at whether warning signs can be detected using special computer software to analyse high-definition images of the eye.
“We even might be able to use the test to differentiate between different types of dementia”
Evidence suggests that changes in the patterns of ocular veins and arteries can be linked to other disease such as stroke and cardiovascular disease.
A team at the University of Dundee’s school of computing have developed the software – known as Vampire – with colleagues at the University of Edinburgh.
Project co-ordinator Emanuele Trucco, professor of computational vision at the University of Dundee, said: “If you can look into someone’s eyes using an inexpensive machine and discover something which may suggest a risk of developing dementia, then that’s a very interesting proposition.
“There is the promise of early warning in a non-invasive way and there is also the fact that we even might be able to use the test to differentiate between different types of dementia,” he said.
“These research projects will improve our abilities to detect and understand dementias”
Researchers will compare measurements of thousands of images with medical histories stored at Dundee’s Ninewells Hospital to see if a relationship can be established.
Professor Trucco said: “When changes occur in some parts of the body, you can see differences in the retinal vessels, e.g. in width, some vessels become thinner; some become larger; differences in the tortuosity, or how wriggly the vessels become; there are also differences in the angles when vessels split in two.
“These measurements can indicate a huge amount but to take them by hand is an extremely time-consuming, tedious process,” he said.
“The Vampire software interface allows researchers to take these measures repeatedly, reliably, and efficiently even when working with a large number of images,” he added.
The Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) has funded the project as part an £8m investment in research at 11 UK universities.
Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC’s chief executive, said: “The UK faces a huge challenge over the coming decades, we have an ageing population and a likely rise in the numbers of people suffering from dementias.
“These research projects will improve our abilities to detect and understand dementias and how the disease progresses,” he said.