The eye: a window to the brain – Detection of Alzheimer’s Disease in the Prodromal Stage from Non-Invasive Hyperspectral Retinal Images


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Challenge: Alzheimer’s disease (AD) affects millions of people worldwide, causing an irreversible and debilitating loss of neuro-cognitive functions, with no cure currently available. At the moment, AD diagnosis can be confirmed post-mortem or through complex in vivo imaging approaches (Positron Emission Tomography or PET scanner) by observing two AD hallmarks in the brain, the deposition of β-amyloid (Aβ) plaques and tau strands in the affected tissue. The early diagnosis of AD may help to dramatically increase the efficiency of clinical trials for testing new treatments.

Solution: The presence of Aβ plaques reported in the retina of AD patients opened the possibility of detecting this AD marker through a simple, non-invasive eye scan. Through a collaboration with Optina Diagnostics, the project aimed to explore this avenue by investigating the potential of fluorescence (and reflectance) optical imaging of Aβ plaques in the retina as a biomarker of AD. The method was developed using Optina’s innovative Metabolic Hyperspectral Retinal Camera (MHRC), and validated against brain Aβ plaques imaging with amyloid-binding PET tracers.

Achievements/Impact: The project led to the development of a new version of Optina Diagnostics’ MHRC permitting spectrally-resolved retinal imaging in reflectance and fluorescence imaging modes. A preliminary classifier (identified as the Cerebral Amyloid Predictor Retina Scan – CAPRS), based on a machine learning algorithm, was also developed to determine the likely amyloid PET status (negative or positive) from MHRC images. Non-invasive and more affordable than PET scan, Optina’s technology will strongly impact the AD drug discovery process. Additionally, the MHRC technology will be amenable to detect the spectral signature of specific biomarkers for diseases having manifestations in the human retina in vivo. The development of the classification algorithm will continue with the support from two grants and private funds from Optina Diagnostics. Optina Diagnostics is fully engaged in the commercialization of the CAPRS software to predict the cerebral amyloid PET status and the company has received breakthrough device designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its retinal imaging platform.

Principal Investigator:
Jean-Paul Soucy
McGill University
Pedro Rosa-Neto
McGill University
Frederic Lesage
Polytechnique Montreal
Sandra Black
Sunnybrook Research Institute
Jean-Philippe Sylvestre
Optina Diagnostics
Completed Project
$1,500,000 / 3 years
Supported by CQDM through:
– Merck
– Pfizer
And by co-funding partners:
– Brain Canada Foundation
– Ontario Brain Institute
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