Canadian researchers have found that magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans are a faster and definitive way of detecting Alzheimer's disease.
Named after German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer who first mentioned it in 1907, Alzheimer's disease is caused by the death of brain tissue, and is currently diagnosed by testing memory and ability to solve problems and count, etc.
However, researchers at the University of Western Ontario at London, 160 km from Toronto, now have found clear evidence through MRI scans that increase in the size of fluid-filled cavities - or ventricles - in the brain is directly associated with progression of Alzheimer's disease.
They say as ventricles expand surrounding brain tissue dies, leading to progression of Alzheimer's disease.
"Previous research has shown the link between ventricle size and Alzheimer's over longer time intervals. (But) the research conducted at the (university's ) Robarts Research Institute shows that ventricle size increases with mild cognitive impairment before a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, and continues to increase with the onset and progression of Alzheimer's disease after only six months," a university statement said.
Research leader Robert Bartha said, "These findings mean that, in the future, by using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure changes in brain ventricle size, we may be able to provide earlier and more definitive diagnosis for Alzheimer's."
"In addition, as new treatments for Alzheimer's are developed, the measurement of brain ventricle changes can also be used to quickly determine the effectiveness of the treatment."
He said his team also found that Alzheimer's patients with genetic predisposition to the disease exhibited faster expansion in ventricle volume.
As part of their research, his team examined 500 MRI scans from individuals from across North America at baseline and six months later.
Further, they also utilized an online database of imaging information gathered from 800 people at more than 50 sites across the US and Canada. It included MRIs of individuals with no cognitive impairment, those with mild cognitive impairment and people with Alzheimer's disease.
The researchers said their job was made easier by a newly developed software. Till now, they would have to manually or semi-automatically trace the ventricles in brain images, the university statement said.
The research was published online Friday in the neurology journal Brain.
Alzheimer's disease, which begins with mild memory loss and then progresses to total mental disorientation, is the fourth biggest cause of death in the US. It is estimated that every adult in 100 has a chance of developing this disease.