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MRI Predicts Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

Magnetic resonance imaging could be used to predict the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to research published in Neuroimage: Clinical. The study found that people with a shrinking basal forebrain were seven times more likely to have worsened cognitive function within 18 months.

“Existing Alzheimer’s disease drugs try to enhance the function of the degenerating basal forebrain, but often too much damage is already done by the time drugs are administered,” said A/Prof Elizabeth Coulson of the Queensland Brain Institute. “If we can give the existing drugs to people earlier, when they first display evidence of a decline in their basal forebrain, even perhaps before they are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, then hopefully those drugs will be more effective.”

More than 330,000 Australians suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and are primarily treated with cholinergic drugs that target the basal forebrain, which degenerates with the condition. Large clinical trials have found that the effects of cholinergic drugs are often transient and mild, but some patients appear to benefit from them for many years.

The study analysed data for more than 220 elderly people taking part in CSIRO’s Australian Imaging, Biomarkers and Lifestyle Flagship Study of Ageing. “We’re now working on validating these findings so a method to assess basal forebrain dysfunction can be rolled out into hospitals in the future,” said the study’s lead author, PhD student Georg Kerbler. “Our MRI method is currently a specialised research tool, and routine diagnosis needs to be performed in hospital MRI departments.”