Foundation Shines Light on Alzheimer's

Anyone who’s been touched by Alzheimer’s disease knows how heartbreaking and difficult it can be. More than 45,000 people just in Pinellas and Pasco counties are living with the disease, and tens of thousands of family members and caregivers also are affected.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, a general term for the loss of memory and other intellectual abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. While researchers and physicians have learned a great deal about Alzheimer’s since it was first studied more than a century ago, it continues to be a progressive and fatal brain disorder.

Thanks to the generosity of the late Wil and Madonna Ptak over a decade ago, the Foundation is proud to be a part of a revolutionary breakthrough in the fight against Alzheimer’s. Led by Dr. Stuart Sinoff, Principal Investigator for ARIAS, the Atlas of Retinal Imaging in Alzheimer’s Study (ARIAS) launched last year, which combines Dr. Sinoff’s clinical interests in the optic nerve and retina, with biomarker research in Alzheimer’s disease.

Designed as a five-year study involving Morton Plant Hospital’s Madonna Ptak Center for Alzheimer’s and Memory Disorders Clinic, St. Anthony’s Hospital and Butler Hospital in Rhode Island, the goal of the study is to develop a more accessible screening tool for older adults at risk for Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Sinoff and colleagues point out that many mid-life and older adults already receive periodic eye exams so it would be easy to screen for Alzheimer’s. The study would build a 3-D map of the retina that shows changes to the retina over the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. This map allows for the patient’s data to be plotted and measured against the markers of normal retinas. The secondary goal is to create a database of willing participants for clinical trials for Alzheimer’s.

Currently, the gold standard for diagnosing Alzheimer’s is a very expensive PET scan, and a patient must be displaying symptoms for a physician to even order the test. The build-up of amyloid in the brain happens before the symptoms are present and the brain tissue starts to decline before the patient or family are even aware that Alzheimer’s disease is a possibility. In order to identify a successful drug, Dr. Sinoff believes that intervention must start before the patient begins displaying symptoms, thus protecting healthy brain tissue and improving the quality of life for the patient and his or her family.

The late Wil Ptak initially made a transformational gift in support of his wife of 66 years who bravely fought Alzheimer’s disease. Nearly a decade later, both Wil and Madonna would be proud of Dr. Sinoff’s work and the game changing potential of ARIAS.

To learn more about ARIAS, click here to download the study flyer.

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