Detecting the risk of chronic high blood pressure, the risk of a stroke or other chronic illnesses with a single mouse click: that’s the ambition of IFLEXIS. VITO’s software quickly and accurately maps the blood vessel pattern in the retina for an earlier identification of deviating patterns. VITO, together with KU Leuven, is now exploring whether IFLEXIS can also be used to detect Alzheimer’s at an earlier stage.

VITO researchers have developed innovative software to detect chronic diseases more quickly. Patrick De Boever: “IFLEXIS allows us to monitor the changes in the blood vessel pattern by means of artificial intelligence. Research shows that the narrowing of retinal blood vessels is an early biomarker of high blood pressure and may indicate an increased risk of stroke.” Changes in blood vessel patterns are also observed in Alzheimer’s.

Better detection of Alzheimer’s disease

Clinical studies evaluating drug candidates for Alzheimer’s have failed so far because the disease is too advanced in the patients taking part. Patrick De Boever: “What is needed is a noninvasive and sensitive test that can detect Alzheimer’s earlier. Presently we can only detect the disease with an invasive and expensive brain scan. Moreover, such a scan is done only if the patient is already suffering memory loss.” VITO, together with KU Leuven and other partners, is now exploring whether Alzheimer’s can be detected with a retinal scan. Ingeborg Stalmans of KU Leuven: “We are examining whether we can detect changes in blood vessels and neural tissue that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s – such as the accumulation of amyloid plaques – via the retina. The eye and the retina are seen as an extension of the brain.”

Predictive models

The strength of the research lies in the use of the IFLEXIS software in combination with complementary imaging techniques such as imec’s hyperspectral cameras. Ingeborg Stalmans: “As a result, we are able to detect early vascular and neurological changes in the retina. Our ambition is to develop predictive models based on these changes. We will use these predictions for more systematic screening to detect the disease at an earlier stage in order to treat it more effectively.” IFLEXIS was introduced on the market early 2017. VITO has already granted licenses to several international research centres and centres of knowledge. VITO is developing the software further. New analysis models will be available in the course of 2018.