As anyone with a loved one suffering from Alzheimer's disease will testify, it's a long and debilitating progressive disease with a low rate of early diagnosis. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia.
VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland offers fresh hope in the form of a new method of rapid diagnosis. They have developed a system in which image analysis, through MR (magnetic resonance) images, can diagnose Alzheimer's in only three minutes. MR images normally take 15-20 minutes to complete assessment and sometimes up to two hours. Currently, doctors are reliant on manual measurements of images taken.
One major indicator of Alzheimer's disease is the loss of brain cells (atrophy). The first area of the brain were atrophy can be detected is in the hippocampus, a horseshoe shaped layer of neurons next to the temporal lobe. This region of the brain is responsible for recent memories, spatial awareness and emotions, the loss of which can often be the first symptom of the onset of the disease. VTT's new MR imaging will be able to automatically calculate the volume of the hippocampus and therefore better diagnose the disease.
Currently doctors rely on patients displaying more than just memory problems to detect the beginnings of Alzheimer's. This new method of being able to discover loss of brain cells in a specific area of the brain will not only help assess the patient's status but will allow for early treatment of the condition.
VTT's research has been funded by the European Union (EU) as part of the PredictAD project. There is no single test that can accurately indicate if a person will develop Alzheimer's. The project has been researching developing a system that can better identify those at risk and create early and reliable diagnostic tools, as well as identify biomarkers for the disease. Completion for the project will be in 2011.
According to Dr. Lennat Thurfjell, Head of Diagnostic Software, Medical Diagnostics at General Electric (GE) Healthcare that's part of the PredictAd consortium, the incidence of Alzheimer's will quadruple by 2050 to 106 million people worldwide.