New MRI Technique May Predict Progress of Alzheimer

The following article was written by Michael W. Weiner, MD, Director of the SFVAMC Center for Imaging of Neurodegenerative Diseases, Principal Investigator of the ADNI, and 2011 recipient of the Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Award from the Alzheimer’s Association.

In a recent study, published in the March 22 edition of Neuron,  Dr. Ashish Raj and his colleagues at Cornell Weill Medical School in New York using data obtained from my colleagues (from the UCSF Memory and Aging Center and the San Francisco VA Medical Center) reported  a new technique that may be able to predict the physical path of Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative brain diseases.

This research supports increasing studies and evidence that dementias spread through specific neuronal pathways in the brain, similar to prion diseases as the results were consistent with an emerging concept that brain damage occurs in these neurodegenerative diseases in a diffusive, prion-like propagation.  Prions are infectious, misfolded forms of normal protein that leave destructive amyloid deposits in the brain, causing degeneration and death.

The study’s results suggest that, by using this approach, we may be able to predict the location and course of future brain atrophy in Alzheimer’s, frontotemporal dementia (FTD), and other degenerative brain diseases, based on just one MRI. This would be extremely useful in planning treatment, and in helping patients and families know what to expect as dementia progresses.

To get these results, Dr Raj and coworkers utilized a new MRI computer modeling technique for analyzing brain images to realistically predict the progression of Alzheimer's disease and FTD. The models were based on an MRI technique that maps the neural pathways, or “communication wires,” that connect different areas of the brain. The spread of disease along those pathways, as predicted by the models, closely matched actual MRI images of brain degeneration in Alzheimer’s patients and FTD patients.

While these results need to be replicated, they are promising for the future treatment of degenerative brain diseases.

For more information on this study, please see here.