Machine learning uncovers dementia subtypes with implication for drug trials

October 22, 2018, University College London
Credit: Pixabay, Gordon Johnson

Machine learning could help to find new treatments for dementia, according to researchers at UCL.

A new that can automatically disentangle different patterns of progression in with a range of different dementias, including Alzheimer's , will enable individuals to be identified that may respond best to different treatments.

For the paper, published in Nature Communications, researchers devised and applied a new algorithm called SuStaIn (Subtype and Stage Inference) to routinely acquired MRI scans from patients with .

The algorithm was able to identify three separate subtypes of Alzheimer's disease, which broadly match those observed in post-mortems of brain tissue, and several different subtypes of frontotemporal dementia. Critically, however, this subtyping could be done in life, using brain scanning, and very early in the disease process.

Being able to identify the subtypes early on in the disease process and using non-invasive MRI scanning means there is a better chance of identifying the best for individuals.

Professor Daniel Alexander (UCL Centre for Medical Image Computing) said: "This has the unique ability to reveal groups of patients with different variants of disease. One key reason for the failure of drug trials in Alzheimer's disease is the broad mixture of very different patients they test; a treatment with a strong effect on a particular subgroup of patients may show no overall effect on the full population so fail the drug trial.

"SuStaIn provides a way to show treatment effects on distinct subgroups, potentially expediting treatments to market."

Classic studies of dementia in individuals take a single measurement based on their symptoms, and aren't clear on what stage the disease is in.

SuStaIn uses medical imaging, which allows doctors to see how the disease is progressing, look at the specific locations of protein build up within the brain, and deduce which parts are degenerating.

Dr. Alexandra Young (UCL Centre for Medical Image Computing) said: "Individuals might present with similar symptoms to each other, but using SuStaIn we can find that they belong to different subgroups. This allows us to predict more accurately how their disease will progress and diagnose it earlier."

Professor Jonathan Schott (UCL Institute of Neurology) said: "Understanding how different diseases evolve over time is critical if we are to design rational treatment trials and inform patients about prognosis.

"This is a major challenge for diseases that evolve over years, if not decades, and where there may be substantial differences in the underlying pathology, and pattern and rates of progression between patients.

"This work shows that it is possible to tease out different disease patterns – some hitherto unknown – from single MRI scans taken from patients with a range of different dementias. As well as providing new insights into dementia, this work demonstrates the huge potential of SuStaIn to delineate disease subtypes in a range of other medical contexts."

The team are now looking for ways to apply the algorithm to other diseases, having recently presented it at the European Respiratory Society Conference on chronic (COPD).

Explore further: New appropriate use criteria for lumbar puncture in Alzheimer's diagnosis

More information: Uncovering the heterogeneity and temporal complexity of neurodegenerative diseases with Subtype and Stage Inference, Nature Communications (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-05892-0

Related Stories

New appropriate use criteria for lumbar puncture in Alzheimer's diagnosis

October 10, 2018
In preparation for more tools that detect and measure the biology associated with Alzheimer's and other dementias earlier and with more accuracy, an Alzheimer's Association-led Workgroup has published appropriate use criteria ...

New way of defining Alzheimer's aims to find disease sooner

April 10, 2018
Government and other scientists are proposing a new way to define Alzheimer's disease—basing it on biological signs, such as brain changes, rather than memory loss and other symptoms of dementia that are used today.

Is it Alzheimer's disease or another dementia?

July 26, 2017
A new method may help determine whether a person has Alzheimer's disease or frontotemporal dementia, two different types of dementia that often have similar symptoms, according to a preliminary study published in the July ...

Study predicts most people with earliest Alzheimer's signs won't develop dementia associated with the disease

May 22, 2018
During the past decade, researchers have identified new ways to detect the earliest biological signs of Alzheimer's disease. These early signs, which are detected by biomarkers, may be present before a person starts to exhibit ...

Artificial intelligence predicts dementia before onset of symptoms

August 22, 2017
Imagine if doctors could determine, many years in advance, who is likely to develop dementia. Such prognostic capabilities would give patients and their families time to plan and manage treatment and care. Thanks to artificial ...

Earlier distinction between Alzheimer's disease and frontotemporal dementia

May 7, 2015
In the white matter of the brain in particular, large differences can be measured between the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease and those with the behavioural variant frontotemporal dementia. Neuropsychologist Christiane ...

Recommended for you

For Down syndrome adults, death and dementia often come together

November 19, 2018
(HealthDay)—Seven in 10 people with Down syndrome show evidence of dementia when they die, new research from Britain reveals.

Meditation and music may alter blood markers of cellular aging and Alzheimer's disease

November 13, 2018
A research team led by Dr. Kim Innes, a professor in the West Virginia University School of Public Health, has found that a simple meditation or music listening program may alter certain biomarkers of cellular aging and Alzheimer's ...

Alzheimer's and cardiovascular disease share common genetics in some patients

November 9, 2018
Genetics may predispose some people to both Alzheimer's disease and high levels of blood lipids such as cholesterol, a common feature of cardiovascular disease, according to a new study by an international team of researchers ...

Artificial intelligence predicts Alzheimer's years before diagnosis

November 6, 2018
Artificial intelligence (AI) technology improves the ability of brain imaging to predict Alzheimer's disease, according to a study published in the journal Radiology.

Diabetes medications may reduce Alzheimer's disease severity

November 1, 2018
People with Alzheimer's disease who were treated with diabetes drugs showed considerably fewer markers of the disease—including abnormal microvasculature and disregulated gene expressions—in their brains compared to Alzheimer's ...

Massive study confirms that loneliness increases risk of dementia

October 29, 2018
A new Florida State University College of Medicine study involving data from 12,000 participants collected over 10 years confirms the heavy toll that loneliness can take on your health: It increases your risk of dementia ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.