MAP Cognitive Neuroscientist Awarded $10.3 Million Grant for Alzheimer’s Disease Study

Jessica-AlberJessica Alber, a cognitive neuroscientist at MAP and assistant professor of biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences at the George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rhode Island, has received a five-year, $10.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The funds will support her work using retinal imaging to screen for early changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

The project, called “ARIAS 2,” could help to provide a low-cost, minimally invasive screening technique to detect Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms appear. This can allow for earlier - and potentially more effective - intervention. Using retinal imaging as a “window to the brain,” Alber and collaborators seek to develop 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 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. “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 yet sick.”

The NIH grant builds upon Alber’s work with the Atlas of Retinal Imaging in Alzheimer’s Study (ARIAS), launched in 2020. This study helped to create a reference database of structural, anatomic, and functional imaging of the retina to develop markers of Alzheimer’s disease risk and progression.

In addition to validating the retinal imaging biomarkers identified during the ARIAS study, Alber’s study, called ARIAS 2, will explore the potential for using Alzheimer’s disease blood plasma biomarkers in tandem with retinal imaging for greater sensitivity in detecting early-stage disease.