An artificial-intelligence-driven algorithm can recognize the early signs of dementia in brain scans, and may accurately predict who will develop Alzheimer’s disease up to two years in advance, a new study finds.
The algorithm — which accurately predicted probable Alzheimer’s disease 84 percent of the time — could be particularly useful in selecting patients for clinical trials for drugs intended to delay disease onset, said lead study author Sulantha Sanjeewa, a computer scientist at McGill University in Canada.
“If you can tell from a group of of individuals who is the one that will develop the disease, one can better test new medications that could be capable of preventing the disease,” said co-lead study author Dr. Pedro Rosa-Neto, an associate professor of neurology, neurosurgery and psychiatry, also at McGill University. [6 Big Mysteries of Alzheimer’s Disease]
The technology is still in its early stages, but the findings suggest that AI analysis of brain scans could offer better results than relying on humans alone, Rosa-Neto told Live Science.
The findings are detailed in a new study, which was published online in July in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.
Developing drugs that slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease requires that the drugs be tested in clinical trials that run between 18 and 24 months, Rosa-Neto said. But if people who are selected for the trial never develop Alzheimer’s during that time, it’s impossible to say whether a drug was effective, he said.
“You want to include people who will be progressing from mild cognitive impairment to dementia in the time of the clinical trial,” Rosa-Neto said. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
But selecting the best patients for these trials is a challenge, because it is difficult to predict who will develop the condition, Rosa-Neto said. Scientists know that the buildup of a protein called amyloid, which accumulates in various regions of the brain, can lead to cognitive impairment. But piecing together the complex patterns of where and how much of the protein builds up, and then using that information to predict when a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease is difficult to do by reading PET scans alone. (These scans are imaging tests that use a radioactive dye to identify certain diseases in the body.)
The presence of amyloid in the brain, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that a…