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OPTIMALZ Report Summary

Project ID: 640396
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - OPTIMALZ (Optical imaging of ocular pathology in Alzheimer’s disease)

Reporting period: 2015-09-01 to 2017-02-28

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The research funded by ERC Starting Grant OPTIMALZ (contract number 640396) is focusing on the development and application of novel optical techniques for imaging pathology related to Alzheimer’s disease in the eye and brain. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia which affects increasing numbers of patients in our continuously aging society. Therefore, the search for powerful therapeutics as well as for reliable and early diagnostics poses an important research topic for the scientific community. Regarding the eye as an easily accessible outpost of the brain, OPTIMALZ explores new imaging techniques which shine a laser beam onto the neural tissue in the back of the eye and reconstruct 3D images of the optical properties of these tissues. These 3D images can then be investigated in order to spot lesions in the eye related to Alzheimer’s disease. In parallel to the investigating the retina in the back of the eye, we are developing two optical imagers for studying the lens of the eye and brain tissue. Our multidisciplinary team consisting of physicists, engineers, biologists, and neuropathologists will then apply the three prototypes for longitudinal studies of pathological lesions related to Alzheimer’s disease.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

Three imaging devices have been developed during the first 18 months of OPTIMALZ. Tailored for imaging retina, lens and brain tissue, the three prototypes are now ready for being employed in longitudinal preclinical studies. Prototype 1 was designed for retinal imaging. Surpassing the resolution of state-of-the-art devices by more than five times, the prototype enables 3D imaging of the retina with sub-micrometer resolution. In addition, it provides enhanced tissue contrast by means of a polarization-sensitive layout such that different retinal structures can be distinguished based on their light polarizing properties. This is particularly interesting for Alzheimer’s disease since we could demonstrate earlier this year that plaques found in the brains of patients can be visualized based on their polarization characteristics. Prototype 2 includes a novel detection unit which can assess the way light is scattered by tissue structures. We experimentally confirmed that this approach can effectively identify lesions in the brain related to Alzheimer’s disease. Prototype 3 is a microscopy setup for three dimensional imaging of tissue samples, thereby providing both ultrahigh resolution and spectroscopic contrast. After having finished the design, assembly, programming, specification measurements and imaging test runs, the diagnostic potential of the three prototypes has just been started to be explored for longitudinal in vivo and ex vivo imaging of Alzheimer’s disease related pathology.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is challenging. The advantages of the approach explored in OPTIMALZ are twofold. Firstly, using an optical technique enables rapid, three-dimensional, micrometer-scale resolution imaging at rather low cost. Second, targeting the eye as an easily accessible outpost of the brain, neuropathology may be diagnosed in an unconventional yet simple way. If successful, the methods developed and explored in OPTIMALZ may ultimately open the door to low-cost screening tools of Alzheimer’s disease. Moreover, the technological advances resulting from this project have the potential to impact the development of novel imaging technology in other medical and non-medical fields.

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