The Associated Press is reporting news that scientists have discovered that a “subtle change in a memory-making brain region seems to predict who will get Alzheimer’s disease nine years before symptoms appear…” The research about changes in the hippocampus was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Prevention of Dementia. What’s more is that scientists from the NYU School of Medicine have developed a way to analyze FDG-PET scans to find hippocampus changes using a brain scan-based computer program:
New York University School of Medicine researchers have developed a brain scan-based computer program that quickly and accurately measures metabolic activity in a key region of the brain affected in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Applying the program, they demonstrated that reductions in brain metabolism in healthy individuals were associated with the later development of the memory robbing disease, according to a new study.
“This is the first demonstration that reduced metabolic activity in the hippocampus may be used to help predict future Alzheimer’s disease,” says Lisa Mosconi, Ph.D., a research scientist in the Department of Psychiatry, who developed the computer program and led the new study. “Although our findings need to be replicated in other studies,” she says, “our technique offers the possibility that we will be able to screen for Alzheimer’s in individuals who aren’t cognitively impaired.”
Dr. Mosconi and colleagues have recently published the technical details of the program, called “HipMask,” in the June 2005 issue of the journal Neurology…
The computer program is an image analysis technique that allows researchers to standardize and computer automate the sampling of PET brain scans. The NYU researchers hope the technique will enable doctors to measure the metabolic rate of the hippocampus and detect below-normal metabolic activity…
The researchers followed 53 healthy, normal subjects between the ages of 54 and 80 for at least 9 years and in some cases for as long as 24 years. All subjects received two FDG-PET scans — one at baseline and a follow-up after 3 years. Thirty individuals had a second follow-up scan after another seven years. Altogether there were 136 PET scans.
The researchers applied the HipMask to all 136 scans. The results showed that hippocampal glucose metabolism, as determined by the HipMask, was significantly reduced 15% to 40% on the first scan, compared to controls, of those 25 individuals who would later experience cognitive decline related to either mild cognitive impairment or to Alzheimer’s. The researchers found that the baseline hippocampal glucose metabolism was the only brain or clinical measure that predicted the future cognitive decline.