CogniFit's Science blog: New Research Can Help Doctors Predict Where Alzheimer’s Will Spread Next

New Research Can Help Doctors Predict Where Alzheimer’s Will Spread Next

New findings show that Alzheimer’s and similar forms of dementia may be linked with nerve networks in the brain and spread directly between connected neurons.

This contradicts what scientists have long believed that the disease spread in all directions.

The research conducted by neurologists from the UCSF Memory and Aging Center and a Duke-NUS Graduate concluded that a nerve region’s connectedness to a disease hot spot outweighs overall connectedness. In addition, it does the same to spatial proximity and loss of growth –factor that actually supports in predicting vulnerability to the spread of Alzheimer’s.

These new findings were made possible thanks to new magnetic resonance imaging research with hopes that physicians could actually use MRI to predict where dementia will head next. The goal is to be able to spot where within an affected network degenerative damage is first discovered and stop it before it spreads further.

Researchers say network modeling coupled with functional MRI could be used as a temporary solution to gauge drug efficacy in clinical trials before behavioral changes actually become measurable. As a result, the next goal is to further develop methods used to predict Alzheimer’s progression. And researchers hope to do this using models that create a template for how the disease will progress in the brain of victims.

In the initial stages of this research, there is already great optimism as it shows that by knowing the wiring diagram in a healthy brain, we can predict the next stop for the disease. As soon as doctors are capable of predicting how the network will change over time, we will then be able to predict how the patient’s behavior will change over time as well.

As a result, this will better assist with treatment and monitoring of the patient. It will lead to a greater potential for therapy that works. And ultimately, the hope is that it will increase the number of people who beat the disease.

New evidence does suggest that different kinds of dementia spread from neuron to neuron in similar ways regardless of whether they act on different brain networks or not. Previous studies by the same researchers revealed that patterns of damage in dementia are linked to particular networks of nerve cells. But up until today scientists have struggled evaluating the ideas of how neurodegeneration occurs in humans.

With this study, researchers were able to model the normal nerve networks that can be affected by Alzheimer’s as well as the networks affected by frontotemporal dementia and similar disorders. And as a result, a major step in the right direction might have been taken.