EU-funded scientists develop new approaches to fight Alzheimer's
Earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is one step closer thanks to a team of EU-funded researchers that has developed novel approaches for measuring biomarkers for diagnostics, and a sophisticated system for integrating the information analytically. The system, which offers researchers an objective method for measuring the patient's state, is an outcome of the PREDICTAD ('From patient data to personalised healthcare in Alzheimer's disease') project, which is backed with EUR 2.89 million under the 'Information and communication technologies' (ICT) Theme of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).
'The aim of the PREDICTAD project is to develop an objective indicator to diagnose Alzheimer's disease at the earliest stage possible,' says Dr Jyrki Lötjönen of the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, the scientific coordinator of the project. 'Current diagnostic guidelines emphasise the importance of various biomarkers in diagnostics. We have developed novel approaches to extract biomarkers from imaging data, electrophysiological data and blood samples, and a unique and clinically useful software tool for integrating all these heterogeneous measurements.' PREDICTAD kicked off in 2008 and is scheduled to end in November 2011.
One of the most common features of Alzheimer's disease is atrophy in the mediotemporal lobe. Experts use magnetic resonance imaging to measure this loss of tissue. Images are currently interpreted primarily only by visual inspection; however, they say objective measurements are essential.
The PREDICTAD partners have complied with this need by developing a number of methods. 'The PREDICTAD tool provides a new option to support decision making,' says Professor Hilkka Soininen of the University of Eastern Finland, who leads the clinical validation of the project.
Commenting on their results, PREDICTAD partner Professor Daniel Rueckert of Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, says: 'We have managed to develop efficient tools for measuring the size of the hippocampus, the atrophy rate of the hippocampus, and two modern approaches based on comparing patient data with previously diagnosed cases available in large databases.'
The PREDICTAD consortium, which consists of researchers and businesspeople from Denmark, Italy, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom, is also investigating another imaging technology called positron emission tomography (PET). The team says a new tracer created specifically for Alzheimer's diagnostics has the potential to help experts in diagnosing this debilitating disease in the early stages.
Research into Alzheimer's disease is crucial, says Professor Gunhild Waldemar from Copenhagen University Hospital, Rigshospitalet in Denmark. 'Successful, early diagnostics combined with the novel drugs under development and early psychosocial care may delay the institutionalisation of patients, reducing suffering and the costs to the society,' he points out. 'It has been calculated that delaying the onset of the disease by 5 years would halve all costs of Alzheimer's disease, and delaying onset and progression by only 1 year would reduce the number of Alzheimer's cases by about 10?%.'
Healthcare experts have identified dementia as a priority in Europe as well as in the United States, and Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia. Costs for this disease alone are equivalent to around 1?% of the global gross domestic product (GDP). Experts believe the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's will grow two-fold by 2030.