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Monday, July 1, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Data from MRI can predict who will get Alzheimer’s and when, researchers say

Researchers say then can now predict an Alzheimer's diagnosis with 80% accuracy.

(CN) — An estimated 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease. The neurodegenerative disease is the leading cause of dementia, is responsible for the death of more than 120.000 Americans annually, and is believed to be irreversible. There is hope that certain treatments could prevent Alzheimer’s, but doing so effectively requires accurately predicting whether someone will develop the disease as they get older.

A study published Thursday in Nature Mental Health promises to help with predicting Alzheimer's. Using data from a functional MRI, researchers found that they can predict whether someone will develop Alzheimer's up to nine years before patients start showing symptoms. with a two-year margin of error.

“Predicting who is going to get dementia in the future will be vital for developing treatments that can prevent the irreversible loss of brain cells that causes the symptoms of dementia,” said Charles Marshall, who led the research team with the Centre for Preventive Neurology at Queen Mary’s Wolfson Institute of Population Health.

Researchers have previously been able to predict Alzheimer's through the build-up of certain proteins in the brain. However, detecting these proteins requires the use of PET scans, which require doctors to inject a radioactive “tracer” into a patient’s blood. Patients have to wait an hour for the tracer to be fully absorbed before their brain can be scanned.

“Although we are getting better at detecting the proteins in the brain that can cause Alzheimer’s disease, many people live for decades with these proteins in their brain without developing symptoms of dementia,” said Marshall. “We hope that the measure of brain function that we have developed will allow us to be much more precise about whether someone is actually going to develop dementia, and how soon, so that we can identify whether they might benefit from future treatments."

The new functional MRI predictions require no injections and take far less time. If a patient requires an MRI for another reason, doctors can use the data for Alzheimer’s prediction as well.

“Enormous potential exists to apply these methods to different brain networks and populations, to help us better understand the interplays between environment, neurobiology and illness, both in dementia and possibly other neurodegenerative diseases,” said Samuel Ereira, the lead author of the study and a doctor at the Wolfson Institute of Population Health’s Centre for Preventive Neurology. “[Functional] MRI is a non-invasive medical imaging tool, and it takes about six minutes to collect the necessary data on an MRI scanner, so it could be integrated into existing diagnostic pathways, particularly where MRI is already used.”

The predictive process focuses on a portion of the brain called the default mode network, which is made up of multiple regions of the brain, and is understood to control how people remember past events, think about the future, and understand other people’s emotions.

Effective connectivity differences in Alzheimer's cases and healthy brains. (Image from the study via Courthouse News)

The researchers theorize that Alzheimer’s occurs when the different regions of the default mode network become less connected. Using this theory, they partnered with the artificial intelligence company AINOSTICS to create a predictive model based on anonymous brain scans that were part of the UK Biobank. By comparing the differences in default mode network connectivity between patients who later developed Alzheimer’s and those who didn’t, the researchers found that they could predict whether a patient would develop Alzheimer's with more than 80% accuracy.

“In the study published by the team at QMUL, they were able to identify individuals who would later develop Alzheimer’s disease up to nine years before they received a clinical diagnosis,” said Hojatt Azadbakht, the CEO of AINOSTICS. “It is during this pre-symptomatic stage that emerging disease-modifying treatments are likely to offer the most benefit for patients."

Categories / Health, Science

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