AI could detect dementia years before symptoms appear

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Dementias are characterized by the build-up of different types of protein in the brain, which damages brain tissue and leads to cognitive decline. In the case of Alzheimer's disease, these proteins include beta-amyloid, which forms'plaques," clumping together between neurons and affecting their function, and tau, which accumulates inside neurons. Molecular and cellular changes to the brain usually begin many years before any symptoms occur. Diagnosing dementia can take many months or even years. It typically requires two or three hospital visits and can involve a range of CT, PET and MRI scans as well as invasive lumber punctures. A team led by Professor Zoe Kourtzi at the University of Cambridge and The Alan Turing Institute has developed machine learning tools that can detect dementia in patients at a very early stage. Using brain scans from patients who went on to develop Alzheimer's, their machine learning algorithm learnt to spot structural changes in the brain. When combined with the results from standard memory tests, the algorithm was able to provide a prognostic score--that is, the likelihood of the individual having Alzheimer's disease. For those patients presenting with mild cognitive impairment--signs of memory loss or problems with language or visual/spatial perception--the algorithm was higher than 80% accurate in predicting those individuals who went on to develop Alzheimer's disease. It was also able to predict how fast their cognition will decline over time. Professor Kourtzi, from Cambridge's Department of Psychology, said: "We have trained machine learning algorithms to spot very early signs of dementia just by looking for patterns of gray matter loss--essentially, wearing away--in the brain.

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