Predicting Alzheimer's in the Age of AI

Since 1927’s Metropolis, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been the stuff of futuristic and often terrifying movie plots. Today, AI is crossing the line from science fiction to science reality at lightning speeds. In fact, AI’s role in healthcare is expected to grow to a $6.6 billion industry by 2021.

And that’s scary good news for people who are at risk of developing dementia.

“AI is becoming an increasingly useful tool in detecting – and predicting – Alzheimer’s disease up to six years earlier than conventional methods,” says Michele Lyon, Executive Director at YourLife™ of West Melbourne, a new Memory Care community coming soon to West Melbourne, Florida. “Some experts even say robots could soon be employed as caregiver assistants.”

In this post, we’ll discuss what advances in Artificial Intelligence might mean for the future of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

First, what is AI? Artificial Intelligence is a scientific term relating to the creation of machines for the purpose of reproducing the intelligent behavior of human beings. These machines include computers, sensors, robots and hypersmart devices. In Alzheimer’s research, Artificial Intelligence with machine learning is being developed to perform tests and tasks – such as analyzing brain scans and blood samples – with much more sensitivity, accuracy and speed than their human counterparts.

And the researchers from Florida Atlantic University, who recently conducted a study on machine learning, say that AI in Alzheimer’s detection, prediction and management will be a game-changer.

"Machine learning has an inherent capacity to reveal meaningful patterns and insights from a large, complex inter-dependent array of clinical determinants and the ability to continue to 'learn' from ongoing utility of practical predictive models,” Taghi Khoshgoftaar, Ph.D., co-author and Motorola Professor in FAU's Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, said in a news release about the study. "Seamless use and real-time interpretation will enhance case management and patient care through innovative technology ... that could be developed into a hand-held device and app."


Detection & Prediction

Between 1998 and 2017, pharmaceutical companies invested hundreds of billions of dollars into Alzheimer’s research. Yet, according to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, just four medications were approved during that time – out of 150 attempts – and those only treat symptoms after they appear.

So, for pharmaceutical companies to develop and test effective preventative drugs, they need an accurate way to identify suitable clinical trial participants who will eventually display symptoms – but aren’t yet.

“One of the difficulties with Alzheimer’s disease is that by the time all the clinical symptoms manifest and we can make a definitive diagnosis, too many neurons have died, making it essentially irreversible,” says Jae Ho Sohn, MD, MS, a resident in the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at UC San Francisco.

Radiologists use PET scans to detect dementia by looking at specific changes in the brain. Because these changes are very subtle in slow-progressing dementias, however, spotting them with the naked eye is difficult. So, Dr. Sohn applied a machine learning algorithm to PET scans to more accurately detect changes to diagnose early-stage Alzheimer’s and predict whether a patient would develop Alzheimer’s disease.

And it worked. Dr. Sohn’s use of AI correctly identified 92 percent of patients who would develop Alzheimer’s disease in the first test set and 98 percent in the second test set. What’s more, AI made these correct predictions, on average, 75.8 months – more than six years – before the patient received their diagnosis.

Read about other promising AI tools, technology, machine learning and meta-learning being developed in labs at Boston University School of Medicine and MIT


Is Alzheimer’s in Your Blood?

In a study published in Brain this year, Canadian researchers used Artificial Intelligence to analyze blood samples and predict the progression of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s.

The scientists’ goal was to find molecular patterns in the blood specific to Alzheimer’s, and the machine learning algorithm they developed was able to detect how these patients' genes expressed themselves in unique ways over decades.

When the Artificial Intelligence program analyzed blood samples taken from patients years ago – at the earliest stages of their Alzheimer’s progression – it successfully predicted the severity of the deterioration that their post-mortem brain samples would reveal.

In fact, the machine learning algorithm detected 85 to 90 percent of the top predictive molecular pathways in the patients’ blood that the patients’ post-mortem brain data did, which could be an important breakthrough for early interventions and treatments.

“This test could one day be used by doctors to evaluate patients and prescribe therapies tailored to their needs,” study author Yasser Iturria-Medina said in a news release. “It could also be used in clinical trials to categorize patients and better determine how experimental drugs impact their predicted disease progression.”

Related: Now Hiring Caregivers. Robots May Apply!


Until there’s a cure, there’s YourLife™. Coming soon to West Melbourne – call today for more information! 321-236-4578


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