Improving Sensitivity of Early Detection of Alzheimer’s Disease via Multidimensional Analysis of Longitudinal Magnetic Resonance Scans

Statistics show that two per cent of Canadians aged 60-74 years, and one-third over the age of 85, suffer from Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. By 2031, more than 750,000 Canadians are expected to have Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. The social and financial costs of managing people with these conditions is significant and puts a severe strain on families and on the health system. Sadly, by the time Alzheimer’s symptoms are recognized and confirmed, there is often substantial irreversible neurodegenerative damage. Current methods of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease are frustratingly inexact. Lacking ways to identify the onset of disease within the brain itself, clinicians instead look for telltale symptoms, such as failing memory. Even when the disease has progressed and structural changes become apparent on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, neurologists do not have tools to precisely measure how advanced the disease is, relying instead on visual inspection. Dr. Faisal Beg is trained in engineering, biology and mathematics. Drawing from international MRI databases containing the brain scans of hundreds of older adults with and without Alzheimer’s, he is taking precise measurements to pinpoint where and how brain structures change with the onset of the disease. It’s a complex analysis, made even more challenging due to the normal variations seen in brain shape, size and structure. Beg anticipates that his research will help take the guesswork out of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease, especially in its early stages. In the longer term, it also may contribute to more accurate assessments of whether new Alzheimer’s drugs are effective in slowing or halting progression of the disease