Eyes for the scientists are a gateway to the brain. Specifically, the retina, which is a thin neural network which senses light, has a direct link with the brain by means of an optic nerve.
In Chicago, to study minuscule changes in the retina in order to identify the early stages of brain diseases, a team of researchers at the University of Illinois are in the suite of developing techniques.
The study, headed by Xinchdng Yao, Professor Loan Hill, and the Ricard for scrutinizing how neurovascular coupling is associated with the development of brain & eye diseases.
Yao stated: “If we can develop a rapid, noninvasive imaging platform to detect changes in neurovascular coupling that are indicative of eye and brain diseases, we would be able to detect and treat these diseases earlier. Many times, the only way we can tell there is a disease is once clinical symptoms appear, but the disease process starts long before that. We also have therapies that work best when used early in the disease process, so early detection is an unmet and important need we think our functional optical coherence tomography and OCT angiography (OCTA) technique can help solve.”
Scientists believe that brain & retinal diseases may be caused by the modifications in neurovascular coupling that weakens the response of vessels to neural impulses.
MRI is unable to image single neurons & blood vessels down to minute capillaries & photoreceptors. Hence, according to Yao, OCT/OCTA will be used: “We can’t use functional OCT/OCTA in the brain to look at neurovascular coupling at the cellular level because the brain is surrounded by the skull, and fine resolution isn’t possible. But we can use functional OCT/OCTA to examine the interactions between individual photoreceptors and their blood vessels in the retina, which is much more accessible in the eye.”
In retinitis pigments & Alzheimer’s mouse model, Yao and his team will be refining the utilization of functional OCT/OCTA by flashing light to picture the neurovascular alterations in the retina as a reaction to the retinal stimulation.