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Four research avenues to beat Alzheimer's disease

Updated: Jan 2, 2021

The Université Laval university magazine Contact UL published a special feature on memory which features several local researchers. Learn more about the research that is being done to better understand, and eventually cure, Alzheimer's disease in this special edition: À la recherche de la mémoire - 4 pistes de recherche pour vaincre l’alzheimer by Serge Beaucher (in French only)

1- Combattre l’alzheimer par l’immunothérapie [Fight Alzheimer's disease with immunotherapy]

See Professor Serge Rivest's online research profile

2- Enrayer l’alzheimer par la thérapie génique [Halt Alzheimer's disease with gene therapy]

See Professor Sébastien Hébert's online research profile

3- Jouer sur les facteurs qui favorisent la maladie [Play with the factors that contributes to the disease]

See Professor Frédéric Calon's online research profile

4- Détecter précocement l’Alzheimer pour ralentir son développement [Early detection of Alzheimer's disease to slow down its development] with Professor Simon Duchesne (translated from the original text of Contact UL).

Diagnosing Alzheimer's disease in a person is not straightforward. The symptoms observed may be characteristic of different forms of dementia or other conditions, and medical imaging may be necessary to rule out these other possibilities. Professor Simon Duchesne, on the other hand, would like us to use imagery, not to rule out possible causes, but to directly target what may be Alzheimer's, by means of biomarkers in the brain.

Research carried out with his collaborators from the Department of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine and the University Institute of Mental Health of Quebec shows that the diagnostic error rate could be halved (currently around 20%) by offering the possibility of early detection, around 15 years before the symptoms even appear.

"If we could detect abnormalities indicative of Alzheimer's in the brain so far in advance," he says, "then we would be in a position to intervene with a much better chance of stopping the development of the disease."

The markers Duchesne is looking for relate to the size and appearance of certain parts of the brain, which differ between healthy people and people with Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases. To detect these differences, it was necessary to set up an immense bank of some 40,000 brain images obtained by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and provided by various research teams in North America and Europe.

brain imaging scientist

Almost half of these images come from healthy adult brains, allowing us to determine normal variations by age, sex and head size and serve as a point of comparison with images of known brains. "From the differences observed, we created a numerical model capable of automatically quantifying the deviation of a brain from the norm according to the individual variables", explains Simon Duchesne. This quantitative result alone does not allow a diagnosis to be made, but when transmitted to the doctor by the radiologist, it supports the analysis of symptoms on a cognitive level.

The technology is already available from a company co-founded by Simon Duchesne, which is now also working with another type of imaging: positron emission tomography, which makes it possible to examine a precise molecule and therefore to see directly the protein deposits of amyloids characteristic of Alzheimer's. "This is a new facet of our work that bring us closer to the goal of detecting the disease starting at its first manifestation in the brain."


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