Brain Research Using Online Data Repositories: Predicting Alzheimer’s Disease

Studies have shown that brain atrophy lowers cerebral spinal fluid levels of the amyloid beta protein and increases the levels of microtubule-associated protein tau. These proteins are considered biomarkers that may be used in clinical settings to test for dying brain cells (neurodegeneration) due to Alzheimer’s disease.

The recent article “CSF Biomarkers in Prediction of Cerebral and Clinical Change in Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s Disease” published in the February 10, 2010 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience uses data from 370 patients found in the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative online data repository to see if levels of these biomarkers may predict the amount of brain atrophy measured in patients using brain imaging techniques.

Interestingly, atrophy in areas heavily implicated in Alzheimer’s disease (like the medial and lateral temporal areas) was not significantly linked to biomarker levels.

The other interesting finding was that measured brain atrophy better predicted clinical measures of Alzheimer’s disease than did biomarkers in the cerebral spinal fluid.

This study is an example of the use of a clinically-based online research data repository. The results seem tentative but are a good first step based on following patients for 1 to 2 years. (Of the studies’ 370 patients, 309 were followed for 1 year and 61 were followed for 2 years.) This sort of study would be very exciting on data collected from patients followed over a number of years and could lead to methods that predict Alzheimer’s disease in patients years before any clinical signs appear.