When trying to determine the root cause of a person’s dementia, using an MRI can effectively screen patients for Alzheimer’s disease or Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration (FTLD), according to a new study by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Using an MRI-based algorithm differentiated cases 75 percent of the time, according to the study, which was published in Neurology.
Researchers note the non-invasive approach reported in their study can track progression of the disease over time more easily and cost-effectively than other tests, particularly in clinical trials testing new therapies.
Researchers used the MRIs to predict the ratio of two biomarkers for the diseases — the proteins total tau and beta-amyloid — in the cerebrospinal fluid.
The researchers note that cerebrospinal fluid analyses remain the most accurate method for predicting the disease, but requires a more invasive lumbar puncture.
“Using this novel method, we obtain a single biologically meaningful value from analyzing MRI data in this manner and then we can derive a probabilistic estimate of the likelihood of Alzheimer’s or FTLD,” said the study’s lead author, Corey McMillan, Ph.D.
Using the MRI prediction method was 75 percent accurate at identifying the correct diagnosis in patients with pre-confirmed disease diagnoses and those with biomarker levels confirmed by lumbar punctures.
“For those remaining 25 percent of cases that are borderline, a lumbar puncture testing spinal fluid may provide a more accurate estimate of the pathological diagnosis,” the researchers reported.
Accurate tests to measure disease progression are very important in neurodegenerative diseases, especially as clinical trials test new therapies to slow or stop the progression or the disease, according to the researchers.
For studies using other imaging techniques, such as tests measuring whole brain volume, reduced sensitivity of the measurement requires more patients to be enrolled in clinical trials for statistical power to be achieved, the researchers noted.
“Since this method yields a single biological value, it is possible to use MRI to screen patients for inclusion in clinical trials in a cost-effective manner and to provide an outcome measure that optimizes power in drug treatment trials,” the researchers said.