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Alzheimer’s detection now easier at one shot

Using an algorithm able to select texture and subtle structural features in the brain that are affected by Alzheimer’s could really enhance the information we can gain from standard imaging techniques, says Dr Paresh Malhotra of Imperial College, London

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia that mainly affects those over the age of 65 years but may also be sometimes detected in younger patients. (File)

A single MRI scan may be used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease – a progressive condition that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills – even in the early stages, according to a study from the Imperial College, London. Researchers found that an algorithm trained in spotting changes in the brain could accurately predict whether a person had the condition 98 per cent of the time. And it could distinguish between early and late-stage Alzheimer’s with 79 per cent accuracy.

The researchers modified an algorithm that is used for classifying cancer tumours – they divided the brain into 115 regions and used 660 different features such as size, shape and texture to assess these. The algorithm was then trained to identify changes in these features and predict Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers then applied the algorithm to the brain scans of 400 patients with early and late stage Alzheimer’s, health controls and people with other neurological conditions, including other forms of dementia.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia that mainly affects those over the age of 65 years but may also be sometimes detected in younger patients. The disease results in disruption of connection between the neurons (the fundamental unit of the brain) and eventually their death over time. It is believed that genetics, lifestyle, and environment, all play a role in a person getting the disease.

Usually, doctors look for unusual clumps of a type of protein, tangled bundles of fibres, and shrinkage of the part of a brain linked to memories called hippocampus to diagnose a patient with the condition. A series of cognitive tests and brain scans is currently needed to confirm the diagnosis. The new approach can identify it with just one MRI scan, which is easily available in most big hospitals.

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“Currently no other simple and widely available methods can predict Alzheimer’s disease with this level of accuracy, so our research is an important step forward. Many patients… also have other neurological conditions, but even within this group our system could pick out those patients who had Alzheimer’s from those who did not,” said Professor Eric Aboagye from department of surgery and cancer at Imperial in a release.

In the same release, a researcher from Imperial’s department of brain sciences, Dr Paresh Malhotra, said, “Although neuroradiologists already interpret MRI scans to help diagnose Alzheimer’s, there are likely to be features of the scans that aren’t visible, even to specialists. Using an algorithm able to select texture and subtle structural features in the brain that are affected by Alzheimer’s could really enhance the information we can gain from standard imaging techniques.”

Other than accurately identifying patients with the disease early on with just one brain scan, the algorithm was also able to associate changes in areas of brain that were previously not associated with the disease – such as cerebellum that coordinates and regulates physical activities and ventral diencephalon that is linked to the senses, sight and hearing.

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Similar research, funded by the department of biotechnology, is under way in India as well. Dr Rajinder Dhamija, neurologist and director of the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), said, “Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease and there is no cure for it. But an early diagnosis helps patients in managing their symptoms better and plan for the future. Right now, many go from hospital to hospital just to get the diagnosis. So, such a technology would be of immense help.”

He added, “Although we are not developing any algorithm, we are doing a cross sectional study that will be followed by a longitudinal study to determine changes in brain scans associated with Alzheimer’s.”

The current cross-sectional study has already enrolled 40 healthy individuals, whose scans will be compared to Alzheimer’s patients’ to see the changes associated with the disease. “After that we will do a longitudinal study where a cohort would be followed for years, with their brains scanned from time to time. So, when some of them do develop the disease, we can go back and see all their scans to determine changes seen over time. This might give us clues on how to detect the disease early on,” said Dr Dhamija.

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The National Brain Research Centre under the DBT has developed SWADESH, a large scale neuro-imaging database that already has scans of patients with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and mild cognitive impairment.

📣 The above article is for information purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional for any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

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First published on: 28-06-2022 at 08:26:46 pm
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