(dailyRx News) Recent research has revealed much about the inner workings of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Now, a computer program has been developed that can predict when specific symptoms may occur.
The program looks at the spread of toxic proteins in the brain. By understanding the way in which these proteins spread to various regions of the brain, the program can predict where and when an individual’s brain will show signs of dementia.
"This could allow neurologists to predict what the patient's neuroanatomic and associated cognitive state will be at any given point in the future,” says Ashish Raj, Ph.D., an assistant professor of computer science in radiology at Weill Cornell Medical College. “They could tell whether and when the patient will develop speech impediments, memory loss, behavioral peculiarities, and so on."
The information could help patients and families confirm a diagnosis of dementia. Also, it may aid the patient and family in preparing for the future symptoms of the disease.
"Knowledge of what the future holds will allow patients to make informed choices regarding their lifestyle and therapeutic interventions,” adds Raj.
The research team traced protein movement in healthy brains, and compared this movement to patterns of brain damage in patients with dementia. They used an MRI and other brain imaging technology to trace the protein movement and develop the computer model.
While no cure for dementia currently exists, the researchers are hopeful that methods for combating brain damage will exist in the future. At that time, a prediction of the spread of the disease could help with treatment.
"At some point we will gain the ability to target and improve the health of specific brain regions and nerve fiber tracts," says Raj. "At that point, a good prediction of a subject's future anatomic state can help identify promising target regions for this intervention. Early detection will be key to preventing and managing dementia."
According to Raj, the modeling procedure will be available to patients this year and will have minor costs compared to the cost of an MRI scan.
The study was published in the March 22, 2012, issue of the journal Neuron and was funded by the National Institutes of Health.