In days gone by, mental ‘disturbances' were considered something you should ‘snap out of' - a mere emotional phase that you should grow out of, like adolescence. Decades later and mental illness is an actual, recorded disease, warranting much-needed medical intervention. Well, yes, but how do we know we actually have it - especially in those crucial, early stages?
Early diagnosis of Alzheimer's would be critical in order to stop and reverse cell death before it is too late. As we all know, once brains cells are dead there is no way to revive them. But, if you catch Alzheimer's Disease early enough you could slow it down and even reinvigorate the cells.
What we have always needed is a ‘Dr. Bones'-type machine from Star Trek that doctors can run down our apparently healthy bodies to pick up those tell-tale early signs.
Amazingly, hot off the presses, comes news of something very like Dr. Bones' dream-machine. It's a simple eye test that can actually diagnose early-onset dementia. Scientists from University College London have devised an eye test which would be carried out by your optician. It would be able to pick up Alzheimer's Disease years before it develops and lead to early treatment to stop it in its tracks.
The retina is actually a direct, but thin, extension of the brain. The technique which has been devised will highlight nerve cell damage in the retina of the eye which correlates exactly to nerve cell damage in the brain. The quick, non-invasive and cheap test, which only involves applying eye-drops and then taking a photo with an infra-red camera, could revolutionise detection of dementia. Once diagnosed, treatment could then begin immediately.
What is so exciting is that, in less than two years, a visit to a high-street optician to check on your eyesight will also be a check on the state of your brain. It will work by highlighting nerve cell damage in the eye using a chemical marker that glows when it finds something unusual. Patients will be able to opt for either an injection in the arm or eye-drops.
Once the substance is in the body it seeks out nerve cells that are dying and chemically marks them. All opticians and doctors need then do is use an infra-red camera to take a picture of the eye and count how many dots appear in the photo - anything more than 20 could indicate the early onset of Alzheimer's.
Nerve cell death is the key event in all neuro-degenerative disorders - but until now it has not been possible to study cell death in a living eye.
Amazing! Until that wondrous day when we know what actively causes degenerative diseases, it's all most of us ever wanted really: early diagnosis of degenerative diseases so that there is time to treat it before it becomes too late.
We may not yet have moved into medical ‘warp drive', but by this account, we're well on our way.
Beam me up, Scottie.