Software for processing satellite pictures taken from space may help medical researchers to establish a simple method for wide-scale screening for Alzheimer’s disease. Used in analysing magnetic resonance images (MRIs),the AlzTools 3D Slicer tool was produced by scientists at Spain’s Elecnor Deimos.
The researchers drew on years of experience developing software for European Space Agency’s Envisat satellite to create a programme that adapted the space routines to analyse human brain scans. Working for ESA,the team gained experience in processing raw satellite image data by using sophisticated software routines,then homing in on and identifying specific elements.Looking at and analysing satellite images can be compared to what medical doctors have to do to understand scans like MRIs,” said Carlos Fernandez de la Pena of Deimos.
“They also need to identify features indicating malfunctions according to specific characteristics,” he said.The tool is now used for Alzheimer’s research at the Medicine Faculty at the University of Castilla La Mancha in Albacete in Spain. “We work closely with Spanish industry and also with Elecnor Deimos though ProEspacio,the Spanish Association of Space Sector Companies,to support the spin-off of space technologies like this one,” said Richard Seddon from Tecnalia,the technology broker for Spain for ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme.
“Even if being developed for specific applications,we often see that space technologies turn out to provide innovative and intelligent solutions to problems in non-space sectors,such as this one.”It is incredible to see that the experience and technologies gained from analysing satellite images can help doctors to understand Alzheimer’s disease,” Seddon said. Using AlzTools,Deimos scientists work with raw data from a brain scan rather than satellite images. Instead of a field or a road in a satellite image,they look at brain areas like the hippocampus,where atrophy is associated with Alzheimer’s.