A protein, previously found to be an effective blood-based biomarker of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, has for the first time been detected in the eye. The discovery lays the foundation for promising new diagnostic eye tests hoping to catch neurodegenerative diseases years before symptoms appear.
“One of the biggest priorities in Alzheimer’s disease research is to develop ways to diagnose the disease before the onset of symptoms, which would allow for early treatment that could help halt the progression of this fatal disease,” says Boston Medical Center’s Manju Subramanian, first author on the new study.
Neurofilament light chain (NfL) is a protein released as a result of brain cell damage. Although it is not yet used as a diagnostic tool in clinical settings, a growing body of research is finding it can be detected in blood and cerebrospinal fluid many years, or even decades, before clinical symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases appear.
In this new study, researchers set out to determine whether NfL can be detected in the eye, and whether these levels in the eye correlate with other biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease progression. Eye fluid samples were collected during routine eye surgery from 77 subjects, at an average age of 56 years old.