News / Health

MRI Sees Brain Atrophy Years Before Alzheimer's Symptoms

Discovery might lead to early treatment

MRI scans can detect signs of Alzheimer's in the brain years before symptoms appear.
MRI scans can detect signs of Alzheimer's in the brain years before symptoms appear.

Multimedia

Audio
Art Chimes

Memory loss and mental confusion are the first overt signs of Alzheimer's Disease, an incurable and fatal brain ailment.

But scientists are starting to find evidence of the disease long before symptoms appear. In the latest research, MRI scans show telltale signs in the brain a decade before memory and thinking are affected.

The pace of research aimed at understanding and preventing or treating Alzheimer's has been frustratingly slow.

A number of medicines have reached the market in recent years, but at best they only slow the progression of the disease.

Some researchers think that drugs may be more effective if they're given sooner, before symptoms become apparent.

A researcher at Harvard Medical School, Bradford Dickerson, is exploring an imaging technique that can identify characteristics of the brain that might signal the mental decline to come years later.

"So we wanted to test MRI, which is something that we think would potentially be more accessible to people if we end up needing to screen large groups of older subjects for these kinds of changes," Dickerson says.

In a new study, Dickerson and his colleagues studied a group of men and women starting when they were in their 70s. At the outset, they were given standard tests, and all of them showed normal memory and mental function. They also got an MRI scan of the brain.

Around 10 years later, the participants - now in their 80s - were again tested, and now about one out of four showed symptoms of Alzheimer's.

Going back to the MRI results from a decade or so earlier, the researchers found differences between the group who still had normal memory and those who were cognitively impaired, differences in Alzheimer's-related parts of the brain.

"And it turned out that those areas of the brain were, in subtle ways, smaller in the people who were cognitively normal but over the next eight years or so eventually developed Alzheimer's dementia than the same areas in the brains of people who remained cognitively normal over that period of time."

For now, this is just a research finding, but Dickerson sees a time in the not-too-distant future when doctors will tell people of a certain age with no symptoms that it's time to get tested for Alzheimer's.

"I believe that at some point in the next decade or so, we're going to see tests being proposed to be used as screening tools, sort of like colonoscopies are used," Dickerson says. "So that once you get past a certain age, you would undergo this screening test. And I think this MRI method has at least some plausibility to be one of those kinds of screening tools."

And the hope is that drugs in use now or yet to be developed will make a significant difference when taken before memory and mental function begin to decline.



You May Like

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocide

During a conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs