A new study into Alzheimer’s disease at Western Sydney University is being hailed a breakthrough in the research world as it allows for dementia to be detected and possibly treated up to 20 years before clinical signs appear in a patient.
The finding, made by the School of Medicine’s Associate Professor Dr Mourad Tayebi and his assistant, Dr Umma Habiba (a PhD candidate in dementia research), has the potential to change the way dementia is detected and treated for the thousands of Australians who are diagnosed every year.
At the centre of their study is the finding that a specific set of rogue proteins, called “amyloid beta oligomers,” can be detected in a patient’seyes 15 to 20 years before the appearance of symptoms associated with dementia. Critically, these rogue proteins appear before the disease has entered the brain. If an early detection platform can be created for these rogue proteins, such as a routine eye test, then it would be possible to develop new therapeutic approaches for depleting the rogue proteins before the dementia becomes untreatable.
“This is a breakthrough in many ways,” says Dr Tayebi. While these rogue proteins have been found in the blood before, their detection in the eye is the first of its kind. Dr Tayebi hopes to find the sufficient funding needed to conduct Phase 1 clinical trials, with the aim ofdeveloping an early detection platform.
If the goal of establishing an early diagnostic screen for Alzheimer’s disease is successful, it would significantly change the way dementiaaffects our population. Dementia alone costs Australian families and the economy more than $15 billion per year, with 28,300 people living with younger onset dementia and as many as 250 new people diagnosed per day.
CREATING A TEST
Whilst the detection of the amyloid beta oligomer proteins in the periphery is primitive, Dr Tayebi and Dr Habiba’s research catalyses the need for clinical trials where a routine optometry eye test can be developed and methods to deplete these rogue proteins can later be explored.
Dr Tayebi has a clear vision of what this means for the medical world: it means implementing a new dementia eye test within the usual annual routine eye test. This screening will detect if the rogue proteins are present within the individual’s eye and an optometrist can refer for a confirmatory test through blood testing. Through this test, signs associated with dementia, if present, can be treated before the disease truly takes hold and causes brain damage.
“The target population for Alzheimer’s disease is 50 years of age”, says Dr Tayebi. “If there is a positive test, there is a possibility to depletethese rogue proteins from the blood. The technology is advanced.”
While Hereditary Alzheimer’s can be an inevitable fate more many people, the target population for Dr Tayebi’s findings are Sporadic Alzheimer’s disease patients, who account for 85 per cent of Alzheimer’s patients. Dr Tayebi is confident in his approach to decrease the numbers of those patients if funding for clinical trials pulls through.
THE NEXT STEPS
Dr Tayebi and his associates at Western Sydney University are one of two teams around the world who have focussed on these rogueproteins in the eye, with the other team located in Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, USA.
Here on the Australian side, agreements have been made to conduct clinical trials at Liverpool Hospital; and Dr Tayebi’s next immediate step is to secure funding for their Phase 1 clinical trial, Toxicity and Dosage Study, which requires healthy individuals. Meanwhile, Dr Tayebi’s collaborators in Los Angeles will simultaneously conduct Phase 1 of this clinical trial to cross-validate the findings.
These clinical trials will hopefully result in the establishment of a routine eye test that can be performed at any optometrist. “We want prevention rather than treatment… We want to detect the disease before it manifests into a disease,” says Dr Tayebi.
“Alzheimer’s disease has reached epidemic proportions and represents a substantial health burden, affecting the quality of life of millionsof patients and their families. Introducing these routine eye-checks that could catch the disease before it impacts the brain could change the lives of millions.”
WORDS BY LEANA HAMAD
CALL FOR SUPPORT
Dr Tayebi’s research is in need of financial support. Western Alumni can support Dr Tayebi’s research directly at a GoFundMe page dedicated to those clinical trials: