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Israeli duo’s early Alzheimer’s detection test brings cure one step closer

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TORONTO — Israeli expatriate biomedical engineers Eliav Shaked and Roy Kirshon may be far from old age but one of its dreaded curses — Alzheimer’s disease (AD) — figures prominently in their lives. As business partners in an artificial intelligence medical imaging start-up in Toronto called RetiSpec, they’ve developed a new way for early detection of AD, the main cause of dementia among older adults.

In recent years, the World Health Organization has signaled the growing scourge of dementia (attributed mostly to AD) as a global epidemic. Tied, in part, to an aging population, an estimated 47 million people around the world now suffer from AD or related dementia.

“The problem today is the point at which you diagnose Alzheimer’s,” Shaked, 37, told The Times of Israel during a recent interview with him and Kirshon at a Toronto outdoor cafe. “By then, there’s already a neurodegenerative process that’s affecting the way the person thinks and reasons, which is caused by a pathological change in the brain that started 10 or 20 years before those clinical symptoms.”

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An irreversible, progressive brain disorder with no known cure, AD is one of the main causes of death among adults over 65 in the United States. In the past 20 years, deaths from AD there have increased significantly faster than those from other major causes. It now afflicts 6 million Americans and is expected to reach 14 million by 2050. The Alzheimer’s Association of Israel says around 150,000 Israelis have the disease while in Canada the current number is almost 600,000.

Given AD’s growing death toll and the massive social and economic burden of caring for millions of patients, the disease looms large on society’s agenda. That’s heightened the interest and support RetiSpec has attracted for its work to replace current diagnostic procedures for identifying AD which are costly and impractical.

RetiSpec’s diagnostic tool, named RS1, provides a far simpler, less expensive alternative to the discomfort and inconvenience of current practices — a spinal tap or PET scan — for detecting AD early. It’s hoped this will help in developing more effective treatments and, ultimately, a prevention for AD. RetiSpec COO Roy Kirshon, left, and CEO Eliav Shaked. (Robert Sarner/ Times of Israel)

“By the time Alzheimer’s is now diagnosed, it’s already way too late,” says Shaked. “The horse is out of the barn. This is the reality clinicians and neurologists face today. If COVID has taught us one thing, it’s that early, accurate diagnostics are key in assessing epidemiological cases and supporting therapeutics.”

If COVID has taught us one thing, it’s that early, accurate diagnostics are key

If COVID has taught us one thing, it’s that early, accurate diagnostics are key

Dr. Sharon Cohen, a behavioral neurologist specializing in diseases of memory and cognition who is an expert on Alzheimer’s research and clinical care, echoes Shaked’s view. As the medical director of Toronto Memory Program, a medical facility established in 1996 dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s and related disorders, she’s the principal investigator in a current validation study of RetiSpec’s technology.

“Early diagnosis is important,” says Cohen, “even if some people say ‘why diagnose early and just extend the time that a person lives with bad news.’ But we think about it differently. There’s a lot to be done when you make an early diagnosis. It helps get on with the business of preparing appropriate care and improving the quality of life and support for patients and their families. It also helps........

© The Times of Israel

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