Currently, diagnosing Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) at an early stage requires the use of amyloid-PET scan or testing of cerebrospinal fluid collected via lumber puncture. Such investigations are not easily accessible and invasive.

Therefore, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital recently launched the “Screening for Early Alzheimer’s Disease Study” (SEEDS Study), aiming to explore whether other methods, such as retinal imaging or blood biomarkers, can be used to screen for early AD in the Chinese population.

The study offers new hope in the treatment for AD, as studies suggested that reducing the rate of cognitive decline may be possible, if treatment is given when the disease is still at an early stage.

Early detection may reduce the rate of cognitive decline

“Recent studies suggested that anti-amyloid treatment may prevent further cognitive decline only if it is given when the disease is still at an early stage, i.e. mild cognitive impairment (MCI). The earlier we can detect, the earlier we can intervene when the disease is still mild. We hope to slow down or even stop the progression, and reduce the suffering from patients and the caregivers,” stated Professor Vincent Chung-tong Mok, Head of Division of Neurology at CUHK.

Professor Vincent Mok wishes the slogan “Brain Health Brings Health” can raise public awareness of brain health. Photo credit: CUHK
Professor Vincent Mok wishes the slogan “Brain Health Brings Health” can raise public awareness of brain health. Photo credit: CUHK

The study will recruit 100 subjects aged between 50 and 80, including patients with mild cognitive impairment, AD dementia and subjects with normal cognition. The subjects will undergo a series of clinical assessments, including cognitive test, blood test, brain MRI and retinal imaging conducted by the research team. They will also undergo an amyloid-PET scan at Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital.

Dr Carol Cheung explains how to spot out risk groups of AD from retinal imaging analysis. Photo credit: CUHK
Dr Carol Cheung explains how to spot out risk groups of AD from retinal imaging analysis. Photo credit: CUHK

Dr Carol Yim-lui Cheung, Assistant Professor at Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, explained, “The retina exists as an extension of central nervous system, offering a “window” to study cerebral microvascular and neurodegenerative damage. We have made significant progress in developing and applying retinal imaging as a non-invasive biomarker test to study microvascular and neuronal pathology in the eye and in the brain. The current proposed study would lead us to enhance the use of retinal imaging techniques in predicting who will develop cognitive decline in patients with AD or early dementia patients with MCI, as well as deeper understanding of early vascular dysfunction and neuronal injury in the pathophysiology of dementia.”

More than one-third of dementia cases might be ‘preventable’ through lifestyle changes

According to a review recently published in The Lancet, around 35% of the overall risk of getting dementia are resulted from nine potentially modifiable risk factors, and these factors are controllable, though not guaranteed to prevent dementia.


With preventive research and education as the two main focuses in mind, CUHK’s Neurology team hopes their work can help end, slow down progression and reduce suffering or disability brought by neurological diseases. The team is also advocating “Brain Health Brings Health” – with the hope to raise public awareness and participation in maintaining a healthy lifestyle beneficial to the brain.

“Medical research is very crucial in the fight against disease, and this is why I support my father joining the SEEDS Study. Even as a patient with dementia himself, it is meaningful to participate in research as a mean to fight against AD. I hope there will be no suffering from dementia in our next generation,” expressed Mr You-nam Wong, Hong Kong artist and son of the first subject in the SEEDS Study. “I hope the public can have higher awareness and better understanding of dementia, so as to prevent from it,” he added.

The father of Hong Kong artist Mr You-nam Wong (right) is a dementia patient and the first subject in the SEEDS Study. Photo credit: CUHK
The father of Hong Kong artist Mr You-nam Wong (right) is a dementia patient and the first subject in the SEEDS Study. Photo credit: CUHK

In Hong Kong, one in 10 people who aged 70 or above suffers from dementia; while in elderly people who aged 85 or above, one in three has dementia. However, only one in 10 was diagnosed or has sought medical consultation.

More disturbingly, the incidence of dementia and other neurological diseases, such as stroke, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, are increasing with an ageing population in the city. According to Department of Health’s statistics, cerebrovascular disease and dementia ranked the 4th and 8th in the top 10 leading causes of death in 2015, respectively. MIMS

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