Finland's VTT has developed a rapid image analysis method to help diagnose Alzheimer's disease in just a few minutes. The accuracy of the analysis is comparable to manual measurements made by skilled professionals, which are currently considered the most reliable method for diagnosing Alzheimer's disease. The accurate and rapid analysis method is well suited for clinical use.
Early detection of Alzheimer's disease requires that the patient displays some other symptom or sign of Alzheimer's disease in addition to memory problems. Such other symptoms include atrophy, i.e. the loss of brain cells, visible in MR images. One of the first areas of the brain where atrophy can be detected is the hippocampus. With VTT's new method, the volume of the hippocampus can be accurately calculated automatically.
Currently, diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease often makes use of visual assessment of MR images. Manual determination of brain structures in this way is a difficult task for the physician, and the repeatability of results typically poor. This has led to a high demand for objective methods. Earlier automatic systems for calculating the volume of the hippocampus are not in general clinical use because of deficiencies in speed and reliability.
Using VTT's new method, the assessment of MR images takes 3 minutes. With the fastest currently available automatic MR image assessment methods, the assessment takes 15 to 20 minutes. However, it is not uncommon for assessments to last for several hours.
The new method is part of a system which is currently being developed under the EU PredictAD project to help diagnose Alzheimer's disease. The system will be completed in 2011. The aim of the project is to develop objective methods which are sufficiently accurate, reliable and fast for clinical use but do not require large investments in equipment. The method is currently being tested to guarantee its operational reliability.