Researchers at the University of Illinois, Chicago, developed an omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid, which they say can cross into the retina of an eye to reduce visual declines among people with Alzheimer’s disease—the most common type of dementia that slowly erodes cognitive abilities and memory.
In lab tests using mice, researchers found the intake of the fatty acid increased the presence of the acid in the mice’s retinas and reduced visual impairments similar to those in human Alzheimer’s patients.
The acid, also called DHA, is different from a similar omega-3 acid found in the daily supplement fish oil, which researchers say cannot travel to the retina from the bloodstream.
Alzheimer’s Disease, a neurodegenerative condition that primarily affects older adults, often includes visual impairment, including peripheral vision loss, through a failure in the brain to process visual information, even when the person’s eyes still work, according to Mississippi State University researcher Kendra Farrow.
Visual impairments often include changes to depth perception, trouble reading and problems with deciphering contrasting colors, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
5.8 million. That’s how many Americans live with Alzheimer’s as of 2020, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which expects that number to hit 14 million by 2060. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death among adults in the U.S.
Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, researchers in recent years have found treatments aimed at decreasing the risk of developing it, including the use of the male erectile-dysfunction drug Viagra. Researchers in a 2021 study in the journal Nature Aging found adults that used Viagra, also called sildenafil, had a 69% reduced risk of developing the disease—though researchers warned the decreased risk could also be the result of other factors, including the drug’s use by wealthier adults, who have lower chances of being diagnosed with Alzheimers. In 2021, the Food and Drug Administration approved Boston-based biotech company Biogen’s antibody treatment aducanumab, which is aimed at attacking a protein in the brain to potentially slow the progression of the disease—though the FDA’s decision has been criticized based on the clinical data used in its accelerated approval of the drug. The FDA in January approved Biogen and Japanese pharma giant Eisai’s antibody treatment lecanemab, which is also aimed at slowing the progression of the disease.
Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche announced plans last week to develop a blood test with pharma giant Eli Lilly that could help detect the early stages of Alzheimer’s, potentially getting adults on track to earlier treatment. Specifically, the blood test would measure levels of a protein in blood linked to the development of the disease.