University of Southern California’s Dr. Amir Kashani discusses his new research to diagnose vascular dementia through retinal scans.
Hi everyone. My name is Amir Kashani. I'm Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Southern California Roski Eye Institute and the Keck School of Medicine.
So I'm a retina specialist and a vitreoretinal surgeon so I spent some of my time seeing patients with diseases like age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. My research really synchronizes with that and that I study how we can detect the earliest features of these diseases, so in the case of diabetic retinopathy, we use a new technology to detect the changes in the capillaries very early in the disease before people even have symptoms.
Right now, a lot of diseases in the brain are detected using really advanced imaging methods like MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and PET imaging (positron emission tomography), but some of the earliest changes that happen in those diseases occur at almost the cellular level and we can't image cellular level changes in the brain. The retinal tissues share the same embryology, that is they develop from the same tissue as brain tissue does and because of that retinal cells have a lot of similarities with neurons in the brain and retinal blood vessels have a lot of similarities with blood vessels in the brain as well. And it's known that diseases for example like hypertension and diabetes can damage those blood vessels. And one of the second leading causes of dementia around the world is actually due to vascular damage right behind Alzheimer disease.
So we believe that we can detect those vascular changes that are occurring in the blood vessels by looking in the eye and use that as a biomarker of changes that are happening in the brain. By doing that, we hope that we can detect the disease before it causes memory loss or even other symptoms, and hopefully treat it. And this is a high-risk, high-reward type of project because it is interdisciplinary so it bridges so many different areas and research interests.
BrightFocus came in and made it possible for us to pull together a consortium of sites of multiple universities to do a prospective clinical trial to be able to detect retinal changes in patients who are at risk for small vessel disease in the brain. I am so excited by the research that we're doing and by being able to collaborate with so many really leading scientists and clinicians around the world, I hope that one day we will be able to impact the patient's life and disease by detecting it before they even know they have it.
So, I envision one day a patient walks into their doctor's office and this is their regular doctor, their primary care doctor, and they do a test and that allows that primary care doctor to say you know you have the earliest signs of changes that are occurring in the brain or the retinal blood vessels, and we have to change that, and we can do that by doing X Y & Z. And at that point in the disease, it might be as simple as you need to exercise more, you need to eat better, you need to make simple changes in your life that will change the course of your life for a long time. And I really think we can do that. Any time I think about the possibility of either preventing disease or slowing it down, I can't think of anything else I'd rather spend my time doing.
This content was last updated on: June 19, 2020