A new approach to Alzheimer’s diagnosis

1 May 2009

For Dr. Faisal Beg — a researcher trained in engineering, biology and mathematics — the current methods of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease are frustratingly inexact. Lacking ways to identify the onset of disease within the brain itself, clinicians instead look for telltale symptoms, such as failing memory.

And as Beg explains, even when the disease has progressed and structural changes become apparent on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, “Neurologists do not have tools to precisely measure how advanced the disease is — they rely on visual inspection.”

Drawing from international MRI databases containing the brain scans of hundreds of older adults with and without Alzheimer’s, Beg is taking precise measurements to pinpoint where and how brain structures change with the onset of the disease. It’s a complex analysis, made even more challenging due to the normal variations seen in brain shape, size and structure.

Beg, an Assistant Professor in Simon Fraser University’s School of Engineering Science, anticipates that his research will help take the guesswork out of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease, especially in its early stages. In the longer term, it also may contribute to more accurate assessments of whether new Alzheimer’s drugs are effective in slowing or halting progression of the disease.