Catalyst Awardee

Project Description

Retinal Imaging for Diagnosis of Aging-Related Brain Disorders

Alessandro Biffi, MD | Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard University Medical School | Elena Z. Biffi, OD, MSc | New England College of Optometry; and Michael G. Morley, MD, ScM | Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School
Competition Sponsor: National Academy of Medicine
Awardee Year: 2020

Vascular and degenerative brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, vascular dementia, and many others, are primary contributors to aging-related medical conditions and decreased longevity. In order to study, prevent, and treat these conditions we rely on early and accurate diagnosis, up to an including asymptomatic stages. Unfortunately, current diagnostic tools such as brain scans and blood tests are either unsuitable for early diagnosis or too expensive for large-scale deployment in an ever-growing population of elderly persons. Recent technological advancements allow for rapid, non-invasive, user-friendly imaging of neurons and blood vessels in the retina (the posterior portion of the eye, where images are captured). The retinal neurons and blood vessels are very similar in function and structure to those of the brain. Imaging of the retina may therefore allow for screening and early diagnosis of brain degenerative and vascular conditions, potentially transforming our research and clinical approaches to brain aging. We propose to leverage existing data on brain and retinal imaging at two large academic hospitals, to test the hypothesis that ocular scans allow for accurate, cheap, large-scale diagnosis of brain aging-related disorders. If successful, our project would arm researchers with a new, highly efficient way to study brain aging disorders – and provide doctors with new tools in the fight against brain health deterioration associated with aging.

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