South Florida Hospital News
Monday March 1, 2021

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June 2013 - Volume 9 - Issue 12


Study Seeks Earlier Detection of Alzheimer's Disease

A new study that involves an eye test may help in earlier detection of Alzheimer's disease. Produced by a company called Cognoptix in Massachusetts, the study is being conducted at four sites across the United States, one of them being Miami Jewish Health Systems (MJHS) in Miami.
Dr. Marc E. Agronin, who has served as Medical Director for Mental Health and Clinical Research at MJHS since 1999, explained what the study involves: "Cognoptix is interested in seeing if this eye test can accurately identify people who have beta amyloid proteins in their brains, which we believe is one of the chief causes of Alzheimer's disease. So we're enrolling individuals who are in mild to moderate stages of Alzheimer's disease, and also some healthy volunteers for comparison."
Dr. Agronin said that to be part of the study, a volunteer can call the research hotline and speak with a community liaison to obtain some preliminary information. "We gather enough information to know whether someone basically is a good candidate, then we have them come in for a screening. They undergo a comprehensive eye exam, and if they qualify, the test involves the application of an experimental ointment to their eye. The following day we use a special kind of camera to take an image of their eye, and then we follow that up several weeks later with a PET scan for comparison."
However, the operative words are "if they qualify," because Dr. Agronin said that one of the main hurdles he is facing is "finding volunteers whose eyes are eligible. Because cataracts are so common later in life, a lot of people are automatically disqualified. For this stage of the testing, we need individuals who have healthy eyes."
The study began a few months ago and will run until the middle of this year. Dr. Agronin said Cognoptix is compiling results but it's too early to draw any conclusions. He said the company will release the official results and he is not in a position to comment, but added, "We're very optimistic that this might be a relatively non-evasive way to detect the presence of Alzheimer's disease."
The importance of such studies is to allow researchers to identify the presence of beta amyloid protein in people at very early stages of disease, and get them involved in research studies. "There is no treatment on the market that can target the protein," Dr. Agronin said, "it's all research. But in order to target it, you have to know if it's there. That's the new stage in the battle against Alzheimer's disease, being able to identify these people so we can develop treatment that not only slows the disease, but actually prevents it."
One of the reasons MJHS was chosen for the study was the extensive work Dr. Agronin and his team have done in this field. "We've been conducting clinical trials in Alzheimer's disease for the past 13 years," he said. "We've built up a national reputation as a research center, so people in the industry approached us to see if we'd be interested. We have a well-trained team of geriatric experts here, and people know that we're exceptionally dedicated to working with older individuals with Alzheimer's disease and other late-life mental health issues. That certainly helps to attract not only patients and research subjects, but also pharmaceutical and medical device companies that are conducting research in this field." Dr. Agronin has also done considerable speaking and writing on the topic, including his latest book, How We Age: A Doctor’s Journey into the Heart of Growing Old, published in 2011 by Da Capo Press .
He became interested in the subject in medical school when he was working with older patients. "When I decided to go into psychiatry it was a natural fit, putting together geriatrics and psychiatry. And when you go into the field of geriatric psychiatry, Alzheimer's disease is certainly the most common diagnosis you end up working with."
The Cognoptix-sponsored study of the new eye test is the first of its kind, and Dr. Agronin said that when he first started his work, "We hoped there would be a way to do earlier detection. The conventional wisdom has always been that the only way to make a 100 percent diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is to actually look at a piece of brain tissue. Obviously that’s not a very practical test to do. We still can't make a 100 percent accurate diagnosis without that, but we're getting closer. The scans are really beginning to change the whole landscape of how we think about and approach the management of Alzheimer's disease."
For more information about the study or to consider volunteering to be a participant in other Alzheimer’s studies, call the research hotline at Miami Jewish Health Systems at (305) 514-8710.
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