Alzheimer's is the sixth leading cause of death, yet doctors cannot easily or cheaply diagnose it.
According to a promising new study from University of California, San Francisco, published in Radiology, researchers found a new artificial intelligence system can detect subtle brain changes linked to Alzheimer's six years ahead of diagnosis with 100 percent accuracy.
Currently 5.7 million people have Alzheimer’s and 5.5 million are 65 years old and older. One in 10, over the age of 65 have a prevalence to get the disease. By the age of 85, the odds are one in three people will have Alzheimer’s.
The Brain Performance Center's founder and clinical director Leigh Richardson said with the help of AI, doctors can look at those very subtle metabolic changes differently, rather than looking at proteins' effects on the brain.
"The artificial intelligence that they're using, that system can pick up the very, very subtle changes in the brain," said Richardson.
She said almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
Richardson said this is promising, even though they're a long way from implementing it in the real world, the possibilities are unlimited.
"This is an ah-ha moment. If we can detect six years before, and we can intervene, and we can make a huge difference," said Richardson.
She said by 2050, someone will develop Alzheimer’s every 33 seconds.
Recently, scientists have linked certain metabolic changes to Alzheimer's disease.
Brains of both Alzheimer's and diabetes sufferers don't absorb and process glucose—its primary source of energy—in the same way healthy brains do.
Dr. David Hunter, assistant professor of neurology at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, said this study is promising because they would be able to scan the brain's metabolism easier, and less expensive, by using a scan similar to what is used on a cancer patient to find a tumor.
"It shows the metabolic activity in every area of the brain," said Hunter. "What their computer program does is it can detect changes that are too mild for a radiologist to easily see with their naked eyes."
A doctor can see changes in images but can't compute the microscopic changes over the years, like artificial intelligence.
He said there currently isn't an effective screening test for Alzheimer’s; it can be diagnosed with a very expensive type of (PET)scan that looks for the amyloid beta protein plaque in the brain.
There is no cure for Alzheimer's and can only be confirmed after death.