Scientists find possible Alzheimer's risk predictor

UNIVERSITY of Queensland scientists have found that magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) could be used to predict the risk of onset of Alzheimer's disease.

The study analysed data from more than 220 elderly people, including 145 healthy people, 40 showing mild cognitive impairment, and 38 with the disease.

Associate Professor Elizabeth Coulson at UQ's Queensland Brain Institute, who led the study, said often too much damage was done before medication was administered.

"If we can give the existing drugs to people earlier, when they first display evidence of a decline in their basal forebrain, even perhaps before they are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, then hopefully those drugs will be more effective," she said.

The study, which was published in the journal Neuroimage: Clinical, found people with a shrinking basal forebrain were seven times more likely to have worsened cognitive function within 18 months.

More than 330,000 Australians have the condition and many are treated with cholinergic drugs that target the basal forebrain that degenerates with the condition.

Geriatrician and Prince Charles Hospital internal medicine services head of research Dr Eamonn Eeles (correct) agreed the outcomes of using such drugs could be improved if they were given to patients earlier.

The study's lead author and QBI PhD student Georg Kerbler (correct) said they were working on validating the findings so a method to assess basal forebrain dysfunction could be rolled out into hospitals.

"Our MRI method is currently a specialised research tool, and routine diagnosis needs to be performed in hospital MRI departments," Mr Kerbler said.