AI May Predict Alzheimer’s up to Seven Years Before Symptoms Manifest

AI May Predict Alzheimer’s

Using artificial intelligence (AI), researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, have been able to forecast an individual’s likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s up to seven years before any symptoms appear. Researchers found early risk factors that affected both men and women, as well as a few that were gender-specific, such as osteoporosis in women and erectile dysfunction and an enlarged prostate in men.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, primarily affecting individuals over the age of 65. Its characteristic features include progressive memory loss, cognitive decline, and a range of neurological abnormalities, such as the buildup of tau tangles and amyloid-beta plaques in the brain. These abnormal modifications disturb regular brain cell activity, resulting in illness symptoms and, eventually, severe disability.

Despite continuous research, Alzheimer’s currently has no known cure; instead, current therapies primarily aim to manage symptoms rather than slow or reverse the illness’s course.

Early Alzheimer’s detection provides a critical advantage: the possibility of earlier intervention, which could drastically modify the illness’s course or reduce its effects. Conventional techniques to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, such as cognitive evaluations and biomarker analysis, are only frequently used after the illness has developed, sometimes too late to allow for the best course of treatment.

In one such attempt to find a way to diagnose Alzheimer’s earlier, researchers at UC San Francisco have created a machine learning model that can predict the disease up to seven years before any symptoms appear.

While researchers discovered several early risk factors common to both men and women, they also identified a few that were gender-specific, such as erectile dysfunction and an enlarged prostate in males and osteoporosis in women.

About the Recent Research

The study, published in Nature Aging on February 21, 2024, highlights how artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to significantly advance our understanding of and ability to diagnose complicated disorders like Alzheimer’s early [1].

The research team used the vast electronic health databases at the UCSF Medical Center to build their predictive models. Based on expert-level clinical diagnoses, researchers were able to identify 749 individuals from this pool as having Alzheimer’s disease and 250,545 controls who did not have a dementia diagnosis.

Using Random Forest (RF) models—a type of machine learning algorithm—was key to the process because it can handle the intricate, non-linear correlations frequently found in medical data. The researchers trained the models with a wide variety of clinical data points taken from electronic health records, such as demographics, medical problems, drug exposures, and abnormal laboratory measures.

The results showed that the machine learning models could reliably forecast the development of Alzheimer’s disease up to seven years ahead of time with high accuracy (72%). Alongside clinical data, the addition of visit-related and demographic information improved the predictive accuracy of the models further.

Alzheimer’s predictors in men and women

Besides the early risk factors identified for both men and women, researchers uncovered a few gender-specific risk variables.

Several variables, including hypertension, high cholesterol, and vitamin D insufficiency, have emerged as the leading predictors of Alzheimer’s in men and women.

Erectile dysfunction and an enlarged prostate were also predictors in men. The study identified osteoporosis as another critical predictor for women, pointing to a potential gender-specific mechanism or predisposition to the condition.

However, not all women who have osteoporosis will eventually get Alzheimer’s. The combination of disorders enabled the model to predict Alzheimer’s onset. The discovery that osteoporosis is one prognostic factor for females underscores the biological interaction between bone health and the risk of dementia, according to the researchers.

Delving deeper into the biological mechanisms

To further explore the biological mechanisms underlying the prediction capabilities of their model, the researchers used SPOKE (Scalable Precision Medicine Oriented Knowledge Engine), a potent tool created at UCSF, in conjunction with public molecular databases.

SPOKE is a “database of databases” created in the lab of Sergio Baranzini, a neurology professor and a UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences member. Researchers may go through enormous volumes of data via this cutting-edge technique to find patterns and possible biological targets for therapeutic intervention.

SPOKE established that the APOE4 variant of the apolipoprotein E gene is responsible for the association between high cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease. This relationship is well-known among scientists. However, combining SPOKE with genetic databases led to a discovery: a relationship between osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s, particularly in women.

A variant in the MS4A6A gene—which is not as well-known in the context of Alzheimer’s research—led to the discovery of this connection. The identification of this correlation highlights the potency of merging sophisticated computational tools such as SPOKE with copious genetic data, enabling focused investigation into the molecular mechanisms implicated in Alzheimer’s disease and perhaps steering the creation of novel therapeutic approaches.

Limitations of the study

The results signify a significant breakthrough in the battle against Alzheimer’s. Notwithstanding the encouraging outcomes, the research is subject to several limitations, such as the difficulties in analyzing data from electronic health records, the possibility of biases in cohort selection, and the requirement for ongoing model retraining to accommodate evolving clinical procedures. The study’s predictive models must be verified in broader and more varied groups to confirm their accuracy and generalizability.

The researchers have high hopes for the applicability of their techniques to other difficult-to-diagnose conditions like endometriosis and lupus.

References

  1. Tang, A.S., Rankin, K.P., Cerono, G., Miramontes, S., Mills, H., Roger, J., Zeng, B., Nelson, C., Soman, K., Woldemariam, S. and Li, Y., 2024. Leveraging electronic health records and knowledge networks for Alzheimer’s disease prediction and sex-specific biological insights. Nature Aging, pp.1-17.
  2. AI can predict Alzheimer’s disease up to seven years before symptoms appear, study finds. PsyPost. https://www.psypost.org/ai-can-predict-alzheimers-disease-up-to-seven-years-before-symptoms-appear-study-finds/. Published Online: 24th February, 2024. Accessed: 8th March, 2024.
  3. AI finds several early risk factors to predict Alzheimer’s 7 years early. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/ai-finds-several-early-risk-factors-predict-alzheimers-7-years-early. Published Online: 29th February, 2024. Accessed: 8th March, 2024,
  4. AI Predicts Alzheimer’s 7 Years Early. Neuroscience News.com. https://neurosciencenews.com/ai-alzheimers-25642/. Published Online: 21st February, 2024. Accessed: 8th March, 2024.

Air Pollution Linked to Increased Alzheimer’s Markers in the Brain

Air Pollution Linked to Increased Alzheimer's

A recent study found that amyloid plaques, the biomarkers for Alzheimer’s, were more prevalent in the brains of those exposed to higher concentrations of fine particulate air pollution. The researchers found the highest association between pollution exposure and plaques among people who did not have a gene variant that increases the risk of Alzheimer’s.

According to a recent study published in Neurology, people with higher exposure to traffic-related air pollution were also more likely to have high amyloid plaque levels in their brains related to Alzheimer’s after death [1].

Anke Huels, assistant professor at Emory University in Atlanta and one of the study authors, stated that these findings strengthen the evidence that fine particulate matter from traffic-related air pollution influences the quantity of amyloid plaque in the brain.

The results also contribute to an expanding body of research demonstrating the various effects air pollution can have on health in general. For instance, Huels and her team have already investigated the impact of small particle pollution on skin aging and respiratory health [2].

Association of Air Pollution and Alzheimer’s

In a recent study, Huels and her team investigated brain tissue from 224 deceased individuals whose average age was 76.

According to research, those with higher exposure levels to fine-particulate air pollution, known as airborne particulates with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns, had an increased risk of having high levels of amyloid plaque in their brains.

The researchers investigated traffic-related air pollution exposure based on the individuals’ home addresses in the Atlanta region at the time of death. In metropolitan locations such as the metro Atlanta area (where the majority of donors lived), traffic-related PM2.5 levels are a substantial source of air pollution. In the year before death, the mean exposure level was 1.32 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3), and in the three years preceding death, it was 1.35 µg/m3.

Next, they examined the relationship between exposure to pollution and two indicators of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain: tau tangles and amyloid plaques. They discovered individuals with more exposure to air pollution one to three years before dying had higher amounts of amyloid plaques in their brains.

Those who exposed themselves to 1 µg/m3 more PM2.5 in the year preceding their death were almost twice as likely to have plaques, and those who exposed themselves to more PM2.5 in the three years before death were 87% more inclined to have plaques.

Heuls stated that one biological mechanism involving small particles is that they can penetrate the blood-brain barrier and reach the brain when inhaled. These particles are hazardous and, therefore, can cause damage as soon as they enter the brain.

How Genetics Contribute to Alzheimer’s Risk

Researchers also examined the potential impact of APOE e4, the primary gene variant linked to Alzheimer’s, on the association between Alzheimer’s signs and air pollution. According to the findings, the individuals without the gene variant showed the highest correlation between air pollution and the disease symptoms.

Huels stated that their findings implied that in patients for whom genetics cannot account for the condition, environmental factors like air pollution may have a role in the development of Alzheimer’s.

What are the Limitations of this Study?

One limitation of the study is that the research team only obtained people’s home addresses at the time of death to measure air pollution, suggesting possible misclassification of the pollution exposure. Furthermore, the majority of the highly educated white participants in the study may not be indicative of other communities.

Huels suggested that follow-up studies could attempt to reproduce the findings in larger brain banks.

References

  1. Christensen, G.M., Li, Z., Liang, D., Ebelt, S., Gearing, M., Levey, A.I., Lah, J.J., Wingo, A., Wingo, T. and Hüls, A., 2024. Association of PM2. 5 Exposure and Alzheimer Disease Pathology in Brain Bank Donors—Effect Modification by APOE Genotype. Neurology, 102(5), p.e209162.
  2. Ding, A., Yang, Y., Zhao, Z., Hüls, A., Vierkötter, A., Yuan, Z., Cai, J., Zhang, J., Gao, W., Li, J. and Zhang, M., 2017. Indoor PM2. 5 exposure affects skin aging manifestation in a Chinese population. Scientific reports, 7(1), p.15329.
  3. Why Alzheimer’s risk may be higher for people exposed to air pollution. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/why-alzheimers-risk-may-be-higher-for-people-exposed-to-air-pollution. Published Online: 21st February, 2024. Accessed: 7th March, 2024.
  4. Study links air pollution with increased Alzheimer’s markers. News Medical. https://www.news-medical.net/news/20240221/Study-links-air-pollution-with-increased-Alzheimers-markers.aspx. Published Online: 21st February, 2024. Accessed: 7th March, 2024.

Alcoholic Dementia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Alcoholic Dementia_ Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Alcohol abuse can eventually lead to symptoms similar to dementia. However, quitting drinking can occasionally reverse these consequences or at least slow them down.
Alcoholic dementia, often known as alcohol-related dementia, is a severe kind of brain damage induced by frequent drinking over many years. It may result in symptoms of dementia, such as forgetfulness, mood swings, and impaired judgment.

Years of heavy drinking can cause alcohol-related dementia (ARD), often known as alcoholic dementia. “Alcoholic dementia” is a former term for the health condition recognized as alcohol-related dementia or alcohol-induced major neurocognitive disorder. Both terms refer to a severe type of alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD) and are interchangeable.

Alcohol directly affects brain cells, which leads to impaired judgment, trouble making decisions, and loss of insight. In summary, long-term alcohol abuse can occasionally lead to dementia. Nutritional issues, which frequently accompany long-term alcohol abuse, might also contribute to dementia-related symptoms since vitamin deficiencies may adversely affect some areas of the brain.

Alzheimer’s and alcohol-related dementia are comparable in that they both impair memory and cognitive function. Alcohol-related dementia can impair memory, learning, judgment, and other cognitive abilities [1].

The two primary kinds of ARBD that can induce dementia symptoms are alcohol-related ‘dementia’ and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. As there is some possibility of recovery in both of these disorders, they are not actual forms of dementia because dementia is an irreversible condition [2].

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) is one of alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD) syndromes. It consists of two conditions that can occur separately or together: Korsakoff syndrome (also known as Korsakoff psychosis) and Wernicke’s encephalopathy [3].

Three primary symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy are irregular eye movements (ophthalmoplegia), unsteady walking (ataxia), and confusion.

Sometimes, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is confused with alcohol-related dementia. Despite a few similarities, the two disorders have distinct causes. A deficiency of Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is the primary cause of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome; however, excessive alcohol consumption may contribute to the deficiency.

What are the symptoms of alcohol-related dementia?

The signs and symptoms of age-related dementia and alcoholic dementia are very much alike.

Possible manifestations of alcohol-related dementia include problems with:

  • memory (particularly your capacity to create new, long-term memories)
  • focus and concentration
  • problem-solving and planning
  • decision-making & goal-setting
  • organization
  • motivation
  • emotional control
  • physical balance, even when not drinking

If you continue to drink, symptoms will progressively develop and worsen.

What leads to alcohol-related dementia?

According to research, excessive and prolonged alcohol consumption can cause structural and functional brain damage, which can interfere with your memory, spatial awareness, and executive functioning [4].

These changes can significantly impact your daily life, making routine tasks such as cooking or paying payments difficult. They may also eventually affect your personality, social skills, and mood.

A large study of 36,678 typically healthy middle-aged and older persons discovered similar associations between regular alcohol intake and brain alterations [5].

Those whose daily alcohol consumption was three units or more during the preceding month showed losses in both gray and white matter in their brains, making their brains appear three and a half years older. One unit is equivalent to a small glass of wine or a half pint of beer.

Diagnosing alcohol-related dementia

See a doctor if you think you might be experiencing alcohol-related dementia. They will probably begin by performing a physical examination and inquiring about your mental and physical health issues. Additionally, they might ask you to answer questions about symptoms about your memory and cognitive function.

You may also have a brain scan, depending on your symptoms, to rule out other possible causes of bleeding in the brain, such as a tumor, stroke, or physical damage. They will also be able to rule out other forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia, with the aid of all the data acquired throughout the diagnostic process.

Treatment of alcohol-related dementia

The goal of the initial phase of treatment for alcohol-related dementia is to assist you in quitting. Physician supervision could be necessary during this several-week process.

Long-term alcohol consumption may cause you to suffer the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, which include agitation, mood swings, and confusion. However, your healthcare team may recommend medicine to treat the symptoms of withdrawal. Additionally, you may be given injections of salts, thiamine, and fluids.

Once the withdrawal process is complete, you will most likely be sent to a mental health specialist for additional assistance. Joining a support group during this phase of treatment might also be beneficial.
When you stop drinking, your symptoms often cease getting worse and often become better. However, occasionally, your care team may prescribe the medications memantine or rivastigmine, which are common drugs for treating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

References

  1. Ridley, N.J., Draper, B. and Withall, A., 2013. Alcohol-related dementia: an update of the evidence. Alzheimer’s research & therapy, 5, pp.1-8.
  2. Alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD): what is it and who gets it? Alzheimer’s Society. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/about-dementia/types-dementia/alcohol-related-brain-damage-arbd. Accessed: 4th March, 2024.
  3. Korsakoff Syndrome. Alzheimer’s Association. https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-dementia/types-of-dementia/korsakoff-syndrome. Accessed: 4th March, 2024.
  4. Sachdeva, A., Chandra, M., Choudhary, M., Dayal, P. and Anand, K.S., 2016. Alcohol-related dementia and neurocognitive impairment: a review study. International journal of high risk behaviors & addiction, 5(3).
  5. Daviet, R., Aydogan, G., Jagannathan, K., Spilka, N., Koellinger, P.D., Kranzler, H.R., Nave, G. and Wetherill, R.R., 2022. Associations between alcohol consumption and gray and white matter volumes in the UK Biobank. Nature Communications, 13(1), p.1175.
  6. Recognizing and Treating Alcohol-Related Dementia. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/alcoholic-dementia. Posted Online: 10th February, 2023. Accessed: 1st March, 2024.
  7. What Is Alcoholic Dementia? Very Well Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/alcohol-dementia-62980#citation-7. Updated Online: 6th January, 2024. Accessed: 1st March, 2024.