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Approved Research

Exploring the link between dementia and cancer- retinal biomarkers as a predictors of colon cancer and dementia

Principal Investigator: Dr Natasa Popovic
Approved Research ID: 92804
Approval date: November 22nd 2022

Lay summary

Project aims: we will use information collected during routine eye exams to apply artificial intelligence in order to develop methods for detection of health problems such as Alzheimer's dementia (AD) and colon cancer.

Scientific rationale: scientific evidence has shown that people with cancer very rarely develop AD, and vice versa, people with AD rarely develop cancer. This observation implies that although both diseases have a disturbed balance in body functions, this disturbance occurs in opposite directions in cancer and AD. One of the body functions that could be affected in this process is the blood supply to organs. It is important to note that in many health problems affecting the whole body there are disturbances in the blood vessels supplying blood to the eyes. Therefore, in this project, the eyes represent a window to our health.

Since the same blood vessels supply blood to the brain and eyes and both of these organs have nerve cells, the changes that occur in the brain during AD could be present in the eye as well. In addition, it is well known that some people with increased hereditary risk for colon cancer have specific changes in the pigment lining and the blood vessels of the eye.

We plan to use images and related health information from a large number of patients to develop artificial intelligence software able to detect subtle differences in the structure of blood vessels and the anatomy of the eye. This way we will be able to identify people with   AD or with colon cancer.

Project duration: 36 months.

Public impact: the average life expectancy has been increasing in the past 100 years, therefore leading to an increase in the incidences of chronic diseases of old age such as cancer and AD. To this end, improved prevention, timely diagnosis, and treatment of these diseases would allow health systems to better adapt to the needs of the aging patient population. This project could improve timely diagnosis of these two chronic diseases and improve the health and quality of life of the elderly.