New Dementia breakthrough promises to predict disease nine years earlier than current tests

A doctor looking at MRI scans
-Credit: (Image: Getty)


A new medical test has delivered Dementia predictions years ahead of official diagnoses with astonishingly high accuracy using MRI scans rather than the memory and shrinkage tests currently used to diagnose the devastating disorder.

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London claim using fMRI scans can predict the diagnosis up to nine years in advance with 80 percent accuracy by analysing brains in “idle mode” for very early signs of the condition.

Led by Professor Charles Marshall, the research team at the Centre for Preventive Neurology at Queen Mary’s Wolfson Institute of Population Health examined brain scans of more than 1,100 people focusing on patterns of connections in the brain network when the brain was not focused on any particular task and just wandering.

The default mode network, or DMN, connects regions of the brain when performing cognitive tasks and is also usually the first neural network to be affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers developed a model predicting who in this group would be diagnosed with dementia, assigning a probability to each patient, as their brain scans showed less connectivity.

Some of those predicted in the study were officially diagnosed up to eight and a half years later and have been able to publish their findings in the Journal of Nature Mental Health. Professor Marshall didn’t understate the importance of this discovery, admitting early diagnosis will be “vital for developing treatments that can prevent the irreversible loss of brain cells that causes the symptoms of dementia”.

He continued: “Although we are getting better at detecting the proteins in the brain that can cause Alzheimer’s disease, many people live for decades with these proteins in their brain without developing symptoms of dementia.”

The MRI studies could also predict, within a two-year margin of error, how long it would take for an official diagnosis to be made. With this new test, medical professionals can deliver more precise diagnoses on when someone will develop dementia and as a result whether they would benefit from treatment or not.

The technique is far from being perfected though as Dr Richard Oakly, associate director of research and innovation at Alzheimer’s Society, pointed out that many more studies need to be run involving more “diverse groups of people” to better understand the “benefits and limitations” of the MRI method to make diagnoses.