URI teaming up with Butler Hospital, BayCare in Florida on Alzheimer’s detection study

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – In a joint collaboration, the University of Rhode Island, Florida-based BayCare Health System and The Memory and Aging Program at Butler Hospital is beginning a clinical trial that could help to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

The university announced Monday that the five-year, $5 million study, called the Atlas of Retinal Imaging in Alzheimer’s Study, will look into retinal screening processes that may help doctors detect the disease multiple decades in advance of patients developing severe symptoms from Alzheimer’s.

Peter Snyder, URI’s vice president for research and economic development, and Dr. Stuart Sinoff, medical director for BayCare Health System’s Pinellas County region in Florida, will lead the investigation. The study’s objective, according to URI’s media release, is to create a database of “structural, anatomic and functional” imaging of the retina to enable “the identification and development of sensitive and reliable markers” of early Alzheimer’s disease or progression risk of the disease.

In a statement, Snyder said that when the study is finished, the group wants to make the technology available for optometrists and ophthalmologists could screen for biomarkers in retinas that the groups believe are associated with the disease and “watch them over time.”

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“If clinicians see changes, they could refer their patients to specialists early on. We believe this could significantly lower the cost of testing,” Snyder said. “We may then identify more people in the very earliest stage of the disease, and our drug therapies are likely to be more effective at that point and before decades of slow disease progression.”

The trial is sponsored by BayCare Health System’s Morton Plant Hospital and St. Anthony’s Hospital and will largely funded by the Morton Plant Mease Health Care Foundation and St. Anthony’s Hospital Foundation.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com.