Rethinking Healthcare

Watching the brain degrade

Watching the brain degrade

Posting in Technology

If you could know how and when your brain will lose its sharpness, would you want to? A new model can predict the spread of dementia.

If you could know how and when your brain will lose its sharpness, would you take that opportunity?

A team from Weill Cornell Medical College reports in the March 22nd issue of Neuron that they may be able to offer just that. They've developed a computational model for the flow of toxic proteins, which underlie the spread of dementia.

Dementia happens when nerve cells die and/or stop speaking to each other. The disease most likely spreads through misfolded proteins moving along networked brain cells.

The new model looks at where these toxic proteins already are in newly diagnosed dementia patient. It then predicts where the toxic proteins will go next.

Lead researcher, Ashish Raj, Ph.D., explains in a Weill Cornell Medical College press release,

"Think of it as a weather radar system, which shows you a video of weather patterns in your area over the next 48 hours. Our model, when applied to the baseline magnetic resonance imaging [MRI] scan of an individual brain, can similarly produce a future map of degeneration in that person over the next few years or decades."

Raj continues,

"This could allow neurologists to predict what the patient's neuroanatomic and associated cognitive state will be at any given point in the future. They could tell whether and when the patient will develop speech impediments, memory loss, behavioral peculiarities, and so on."

The model could help confirm a patient's diagnosis of dementia, and prepare the patient for their future cognitive decline. This could help inform their future lifestyle and therapeutic choices.

If you were diagnosed with dementia, would you want to know how the disease was going to play out?

Photo: Fechi Fajardo/Flickr

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Audrey Quinn

Contributing Writer

Audrey Quinn is a Brooklyn-based multimedia journalist focused on health, tech and the economy. Her radio stories can be heard on Marketplace, Studio 360, PRI's The World, NPR's Latino USA, Deutsche Welle Radio and The Believer Magazine podcast. In addition to her work with CBS Interactive she produces multimedia science stories for online publications and is a teaching assistant at the Transom Story Workshop. Her investigative work has been awarded by the Fund for Investigative Journalism and The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure