A Canadian study challenged the theory that the first tell-tale sign of Alzheimer’s is a buildup of plaque in the patients’ brains. Powerful MRI and PET tools showed that the earliest sign of Alzheimer’s disease is in fact a slight reduction in the blood flow towards the brain.
Dr. Alan Evans, a neurologist at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, and his fellow researchers sifted through medical data on more than 1,000 Alzheimer’s patients. Researchers analyzed nearly 8,000 brain images showing the progression of the disease at various stages.
Data were collected with help from Magnetic Resonance Imaging devices and Positron Emission Tomographs (PETs). The patients’ spinal fluid and blood flow were also assessed.
The research team found that the earliest tell-tale sign of the disease is a lower blood flow within the brain. Past research had suggested that increased levels of amyloid protein were the first warning sign.
Study authors do not challenge the role of the proteins in Alzheimer’s progression, but they say they found an earlier sign which could be used to detect the disease in its first stages. A new set of cognition tests have revealed that brain function decline begins earlier than originally believed.
Researchers explained that late-onset Alzheimer’s is triggered by a complex set of factors so it is vital to understand the disease’s progression in order to develop a cure. According to the latest study, the disease is caused by several physiological mechanisms in the brain.
Unlike previous research, the latest study was more comprehensive. It looked for several factors that may trigger the condition including disturbances in blood flow, amyloid levels, brain structure, and glucose metabolism. Brain scans covered 78 portions of the patients’ brain, which cover all grey matter.
Study lead author Yasser Iturria Medina believes that Alzheimer’s lacks a proper treatment because of the gaps in understanding the multifunctional mechanisms that lead to it. Fortunately, researchers had 30-years worth of data at their disposal for the analysis, so they were able to better track the said factors’ progression over time.
Additionally, researchers got help from powerful computers in their endeavor. But despite computer assistance, the analysis of thousands of brain scans and mechanisms took thousands of hours. Dr. Evans said that this approach is critical in brain research nowadays.
He noted that there is a huge loot of data on the brain, but little manpower to process it. So, this is where super computer may lend a hand. Evans thinks that neurology is currently restricted by the lack of tools to process the available data.
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