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Could eyes be windows to the brain?

23 November 2007 - for immediate release

Scientists at Aston University in Birmingham, UK have received a grant from the UK’s leading dementia research charity, the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, to investigate the association between glaucoma and Alzheimer’s disease.

Like Alzheimer’s disease (AD), glaucoma, the third leading cause of blindness in the world, represents a disorder in which abnormal blood flow and dysfunction of the blood vessels are possible contributors to the disease process.

Using unique equipment and expertise, the innovative research project, which is led by Dr Doina Gherghel from Aston, will look at whether abnormal vascular activity in the retina of the eye is a common symptom in both AD and glaucoma – so using the eye as a window to the brain.

Dr Gherghel said: ‘If successful, the proposed research could provide a better understanding of the possible vascular association between these two diseases.

‘Moreover, it will also provide clinicians with an additional tool for early diagnosis of vascular dysfunction and possible risk for glaucoma in patients suffering AD, thus contributing to the prevention of blindness with all its disabling consequences.

Dr Gherghel also said that the research could form a base for the development of new treatment strategies that could improve the prognosis and quality of life in patients suffering from either or both diseases.

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust said: ‘This research will tell us more about of some of the parallel processes in glaucoma and AD and help develop a basis for new treatments useful for both conditions. Better quality of life is also a huge issue.

‘With the number of people with Alzheimer’s projected to double within a generation, there is an urgent need to fund more research to find better treatments for this devastating disease.’

Rebecca added that it did not necessarily mean that people with glaucoma were at an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.

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Notes for Editors


1. Glaucoma

• Glaucoma is a disease of the eye that leads to blindness.

• Glaucoma and Alzheimer’s share similar characteristics; both are diseases of the elderly that become progressively worse and poor vascular health could be an important risk factor.

• Moreover, the prevalence of glaucoma could be as high as 24-26% in AD patients compared to 5-10% in the general population.

2. Alzheimer’s

• Alzheimer’s disease is not a normal, unavoidable part of getting older, but a fatal and incurable brain disease.

• Alzheimer’s research is severely under-funded – only £11 is spent on UK research annually per patient, compared with £289 for people with cancer yet the number of people with these conditions is similar.

• There are currently 700,000 people with Alzheimer’s in the UK today. The number of people with dementia is projected to double within a generation.

• Care services for Alzheimer’s disease costs the UK more than cancer, heart disease and stroke combined.

Alzheimer’s Research Trust

• The Alzheimer’s Research Trust provides free information to the public on Alzheimer’s and the treatments currently available: phone 01223 843304; www.alzheimers-research.org.uk

• The Alzheimer’s Research Trust is the UK’s leading research charity for Alzheimer’s and related causes of dementia. It relies on donations from the public to fund its vital research.

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