The Eye in Down syndrome as a window to Alzheimer’s Disease

Early, non-invasive, inexpensive biomarkers of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) are much needed. Those with Down syndrome (DS) are the largest patient group at increased risk of AD. Evidence suggests that imaging the eye could be a non-invasive biomarker to screen for AD. However, there is limited information regarding ocular changes in DS. Our group was the first to image the lens in DS, revealing the presence of small ‘dot’ opacities in the lens in 54% of individuals with DS. We were also the first to show that the retina and the choroid in adults with DS thicken rather than thins, as expected to accompany neurodegeneration. These observations could be due to inflammatory changes that may take place in the preclinical stages of AD. This proposed study builds upon these investigations. We will use state-of-the-art, high-resolution ocular imaging techniques and visual function assessments to monitor differences in the eye in people with DS and those with and without mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Patients will be stratified using cognitive tests and blood-based standard biomarkers. Inflammatory markers will be measured by proteomic and transcriptomic analysis of blood, saliva and tears to determine the most representative biofluid linked to ocular differences. We hypothesise that we will be able to identify easily accessible and well-tolerated eye imaging markers and inflammatory biomarkers for DS and MCI participants. This work will help define the pathomechanism of early changes in AD, and could lead to targeted therapeutic interventions in the longer term.

Principal Investigator/ Researcher Names

Dr Imre Lengyel Queen’s University Belfast
Dr Julie-Anne Little Ulster University

Disease Area

Dementia (including Alzheimer's Disease and other dementias)

Field of Research

Clinical Research


Queen's University Belfast
University of Ulster

Funding body

Alzheimer’s Society

Start date

January 2022

End/expected end date

December 2025

Date of Expected Results/Outcomes


Project Completed


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