BrightFocus Funds New Research Project Using Eye Test for Early Dementia Signs

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Bridging Eye and Brain Science May Provide Earlier Detection and Diagnosis

CLARKSBURG, MD – BrightFocus Foundation is partnering with the National Institute of Health’s (NIH’s) National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) to fund an innovative research grant to develop retinal scans to identify early signs of vascular contributions to cognitive dementia (VCID), one of the leading causes of memory loss.

BrightFocus funding will go to support University of Southern California researcher Amir Kashani, MD, PhD, who will use advanced eye imaging to measure blood flow to detect capillary damage in the retina that could be an early indicator of cognitive impairment. Dr. Kashani’s study is being funded as a part of the NINDS MarkVCID Consortium (, a gathering of top scientists from eight world-class research centers spread around the country who are collaborating to develop VCID biomarkers. Dr. Kashani will serve as a MarkVCID principal investigator.

“The eye is a window to the brain, and by bridging eye and brain research, we are pursuing a bold ‘what- if’ of science that could provide earlier detection and diagnosis of this type of dementia,” said BrightFocus Foundation President and CEO Stacy Pagos Haller.  The foundation, a Maryland-based nonprofit, is a recognized global leader in bringing vision and dementia researchers together to advance scientific progress. 

The research team will use an FDA-approved technology, optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA), to measure the size, shape and blood flow of retinal capillaries – small vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients. VCID, of which vascular dementia is a part, encompasses all types of brain vessel and heart vessel disease-related cognitive decline that reduces blood supply in the brain.  The original OCT, part of the OCTA device itself, is rooted in early research supported by BrightFocus.

The OCTA tool will be tested for its ability to detect the onset, progression, and severity of VCID, which is the second leading cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s.  If successful, the next step would be for researchers to use this new tool to accelerate clinical trials to develop earlier, more effective approaches to identify and treat dementia.

“OCTA provides a rapid, cost-effective and clinically feasible method of assessing capillary level changes contributing to VCID. This visionary funding initiative from NINDS and BrightFocus will allow us to perform a prospective, multicenter study to use this technology to address a major unmet medical need.” Dr. Kashani said.

“We are delighted that BrightFocus is partnering with the MarkVCID Consortium in its efforts to find meaningful biomarkers. Led by Dr. Kashani, the planned development of this non-traditional, non-invasive OCTA biomarker for VCID could become an important tool in clinical trials for the detection and treatment of dementia” said Roderick Corriveau, Ph.D., at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

BrightFocus Foundation is a premier private funder of research on Alzheimer’s, macular degeneration, and glaucoma, currently supporting a portfolio of over 200 projects around the globe, a $40 million investment.  For more information, visit