Progress made in the early detection of Alzheimer’s Disease through functional resonance imaging within the framework of the multi-disciplinary MIND project

Castelló de la Plana 16 September 2009The Universitat Jaume I (UJI) of Castelló is working on the early detection of Alzheimer's Disease by using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques. The study is being carried out within the framework of a national project called MIND, which approaches Alzheimer's disease from a multi-disciplinary perspective and involves twelve biomedicine companies and the corresponding public research organisations associated with them. The project is part of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation's CENIT programme, has a budget of 27 million euros and lasts four years.

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The UJI participates in this project as an organisation associated with Eresa, the company that came up with MIND, with which it has worked since 2000 in the research field using functional resonance. The MIND project took its first steps in 2008, and the UJI research group has already presented "a proposal of functional resonance protocol that establishes what technical details must be followed to better study memory in Alzheimer patients", as put by UJI professor Vicente Belloch.

The tests done by researchers from the Department of Basic and Clinical Psychology and Psychobiology at the Universitat Jaume I allow users, who wear headphones and glasses, to be exposed to a series of stimuli while they are being subjected to resonance imaging in order to study how their brains process the stimuli and how they memorise them. "The complexity involved here is to design tasks that stimulate immediate memory exactly, which is the specific brain area that we want to study", highlighted Vicente Belloch.

This protocol will later be applied to three groups: a control group made up of healthy senior people, another group including individuals with mild cognitive impairment, and a third group with Alzheimer patients. The idea is to "compare how the temporal lobe is stimulated depending on the tasks performed". The objective is to collect data that - once crossed with others being investigated within the project MIND - will lead to early detection.

The president of the Eresa Foundation, neurologist José Miguel Lainez, explained that among those who start to show symptoms of mild memory loss, "approximately one third of them develop Alzheimer's disease and, to date, we still have no way of knowing very well which of them will. The objective of these studies is to be able to predict which patients will develop Alzheimer's disease so we can start treating them earlier."

The problem, José Miguel Lainez pointed out, is that "current treatments are not very effective because they are applied too late, in the last stage, and these medicines have a symptomatic effect but do not act on the process itself". Alzheimer's disease destroys neuronal tissue which cannot be regenerated, and this is precisely why early detection is important because it will allow us to apply medicines being developed, which can be applied in earlier stages to stop the disease from developing. "However, the therapies achieved will not be applicable if a correct selection of patients is not made."

UJI researchers are also working on an fMRI tool that allows the hippocampus' shape and volume to be seen. The hippocampus is a structure involved in the processing of immediate memory, which is the first to be affected by Alzheimer's disease. In this way, the manner the disease develops and the efficacy of the treatments will be monitored.

MIND is a research, development and new technology application project with a multi-disciplinary background. Its purpose is to help personalise the comprehensive management of Alzheimer's disease and other related types of dementia; that is, neurological diseases that are a first-rate technological, health care and social challenge, not only because of the population affected, but also given the foreseen development rate and high prevalence of this disease. Today in Spain there are around 400.000 patients with Alzheimer's disease and an increase is forecast due to Spain's ageing population. This project involves diagnosis methods, in which the UJI is working, drug therapy and telehealth technologies because, as José Miguel Lainez emphasised, the final goal is to "improve the patient's quality of life".

The MIND Consortium currently comprises two large companies: Eresa - acting as the general co-ordinator of the project - and Neuropharma; three medium-sized companies, namely Sistemas Genómicos, Bilbomática and Oryzon; and seven small-sized companies: Onco-Vision, Neuron BPh, Noraybio, Instituto Tecnológico PET, Valentia Biopharma, Gerozerlan and eMédica. It also involves numerous public research organisations from almost every region in Spain, including the Universitat Jaume I in Castelló.


Source: Universitat Jaume I

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