Study finds Alzheimer's link in eye scans

Researchers at Moorfields Eye Hospital and the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology have found a link between thinning of the retinal nerve and poor cognitive ability – a clear warning sign of early stages of Alzheimer’s. The link marks the potential for eye scans to be used as a new biomarker for the disease during routine eye checks in the future.

Researchers used the United Kingdom Biobank study to test this hypothesis in a large community-based population sample. In this study, 33,068 participants underwent a series of tests on memory, reaction time and reasoning. Researchers then compared results with measurements taken from optical coherence topography scans (OCT) which measures the thickness of the retinal nerve fibre layer at the back of the eye.

Researchers noticed that the retina nerve fibre layer was significantly thinner among participants who performed abnormally on cognitive tests. For each additional cognitive test failed, the macular was also significantly thinner.

Dr Fang Ko said: “Our findings show a clear association between thinner macular retinal nerve fibre layer and poor cognition in the study population.” 

Early diagnosis of Alzheimer's is essential to developing effective treatments that do more than alleviate the condition's symptoms.The latest findings presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) 2016 in Toronto could lead to people being screened for dementia - and even be used as part of an individual's regular eye check-up.

Mr Praveen Patel, a consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital, said that “these exciting findings show the value of large-scale studies for identifying new biomarkers…which could lead to the discovery of new mechanisms of neurodegeneration”. 

Notes to editors

  • Moorfields is one of the world’s leading eye hospitals, providing expertise in clinical care, research and education. We have provided excellence in eye care for more than 200 years and we continue to be at the forefront of new breakthroughs and developments.  We are an integral part of one of the UK’s first academic health science centres, UCL Partners, and were one of the first NHS organisations to achieve foundation trust status in 2004. For further information, please visit

  • In 2015/16 we saw more than half a million patients in our outpatient services and carried out almost 40,000 surgical procedures, making Moorfields the largest ophthalmic provider in the UK. We also provided care to 104,000 patients in our A&E department.  

  • We treat people in 32 locations in and around London enabling us to provide expert treatment closer to patients’ homes. We also operate commercial divisions that provide care to private patients in both London and the Middle East. 

  •  Moorfields’ innovative approach to delivering care across multiple satellite sites has been explicitly referenced in recent national policy. The Five Year Forward View highlighted the benefits of our model in helping to sustain local hospital services and enable smaller hospitals to remain viable. The Dalton Review categorised our approach as a contractual arrangement which it described as a service-level chain. More recently, the Moorfields@ model has been cited as an example of franchising or networked care. Terminology will be important as we seek to describe the models that could be replicated across the NHS. In this value proposition we use the term ‘networked care’ to describe the generic model of collaboration between providers and the term ‘satellite model’ to describe the approach currently delivered by Moorfields. 

  • With our academic partners at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, Moorfields is recognised as a leading centre of excellence in eye and vision research. Together we form one of the largest ophthalmic research sites in the world, with the largest patient population in Europe or the USA. We publish more scientific papers than any other eye and vision research site and have an extensive joint research portfolio.


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