Sunday, July 31, 2011

Detecting Alzheimer's Sooner

Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), University of Kentucky, and the University of Tennessee are researching a method that could help primary care doctors detect Alzheimer’s in patients during the early stages of the disease.

An early diagnosis is considered critical because medications currently available are most effective if they are used in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s. Medications may be even more helpful if they are used when a patient has mild cognitive impairment, a condition that frequently progresses into Alzheimer’s dementia.

The research team conducted a pilot project to identify preclinical Alzheimer’s using EEG. Although neuroimaging methods like MRIs and PET scans are successful at recognizing early forms of Alzheimer’s, these scans are expense and prohibit everyday use. In contrast, EEG is a relatively simple test that measures electrical activity from the brain’s neurons from electrodes attached to the scalp.

Researchers at the University of Kentucky Medical Center collected EEG data from three groups that included patients with no dementia symptoms, patients diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, and patients diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s.

Advanced data analysis performed by researchers at ORNL and the University of Tennessee revealed that the EEG test succeeded in terms of sensitivity and accuracy in identifying the conditions of the different groups.

The research team hopes to expand its initial study and increase the sample size of the groups to validate and improve the screening abilities of EEG analysis. The end goal is to develop a simple efficient device to provide real-time analysis in a general practice or in a community hospital setting.