Can a new model for analysing brain changes across time improve the detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease?
Dr Neil Oxtoby
University College London
During the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, complex changes occur in the structure of the brain and in brain activity.
To understand these changes, scientists have developed computerised models of brain changes using different approaches.
In one approach, called network models, researchers examine how abnormal brain changes may start in one region and then move to other regions that are connected in a brain network.
Another approach, known as event-based models, simulates the stages of disease progression across time.
The “events” could include changes in brain structure or other biomarkers that indicate the presence of disease in the brain.
Why is this important?
The research proposed by Dr Oxtoby and colleagues will allow scientists to rapidly test ideas of how Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease may progress through the brain.
A better understanding of these fundamental disease mechanisms will inform the development of new detection methods and treatments.
Furthermore, their new modelling method can be extended to other neurodegenerative diseases, leading to insights about the shared and distinct mechanisms of different neurodegenerative diseases.
What will they do?
Dr Oxtoby and colleagues have proposed a new type of disease model that combines event-based models and network models.
This novel computational model will allow the researchers to test theories of how Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease progress through distinct stages across time.
The model may also provide new information on how brain changes in each disease begin in certain vulnerable brain regions and then move throughout the brain in specific patterns.
In particular, Dr Oxtoby and colleagues plan to test the idea that small clumps of abnormal proteins contribute to the onset and progression of disease through networks of brain regions.
The researchers will also identify ways in which Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s differ, which may help scientists develop better ways to diagnose and distinguish the two diseases.
This project is funded through a global funding partnership, called Biomarkers Across Neurodegenerative Disease, between Alzheimer’s Research UK, Alzheimer’s Association, The Michael J Fox Foundation and the Weston Brain Institute.