URI neuroscientist gets $10.3M grant for Alzheimer’s project

THE ALZHEIMER'S Retinal Scanning team at Butler Hospital. Standing is Dr. Jessica Alber, a Ryan Research assistant professor of neuroscience, George and Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience. Alber was awarded a five-year, $10.3 federal million grant to support her work using retinal imaging to screen for early changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease, / URI PHOTO / MICHAEL SALERNO

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – A University of Rhode Island neuroscientist was awarded a five-year, $10.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to support her work using retinal imaging to screen for early changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease, the university announced Wednesday. 

Dr. Jessica Alber’s project, “Longitudinal validation of retinal biomarkers against cerebral imaging in preclinical Alzheimer’s disease,” uses retinal imaging as a “window to the brain,” that could lead to the development of a more affordable and accessible screening tool that could potentially be part of a routine eye exam. 

“In the near future, screening for risk in the general population will become increasingly important in order to treat people before they are experiencing the devastating loss in quality of life and cognitive function that affects them and their families,” said Alber, assistant professor of biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences at the George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rhode Island. “The retina allows us to look at what might be changing in the brain in a cost-effective and minimally invasive way to identify people who are at high risk but not sick yet.” 

Alber’s study also explores the potential for using Alzheimer’s disease blood plasma biomarkers in tandem with retinal imaging for greater sensitivity in detecting early-stage disease.  

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“We don’t know yet if blood biomarkers can be used to identify preclinical disease, but we have seen some exciting developments in this area,” said Alber. 

The latest NIH grant builds upon Alber’s work with the Atlas of Retinal Imaging in Alzheimer’s Study. Led by URI Vice President for Research and Economic Development Peter Snyder, and Dr. Stuart Sinoff, of Florida-based BayCare Health System, the ARIAS study was launched in 2020 to create a reference database of structural, anatomic and functional imaging of the retina to develop markers of Alzheimer’s disease risk and progression.  

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