Neurodegenerative diagnostics

The world’s first image software tool for the diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases is about to be tested out.

Philips and University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf are to test the world’s first MRI/PET image software tool for the diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases.

The University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) and Royal Philips Electronics developed the computer aided diagnostics (CAD) system to help clinicians diagnose the onset and type of neurodegenerative diseases as early as possible.

The new diagnostic technique, which has already proven its accuracy using historical image data and known patient outcomes, is about to undergo clinical evaluation at UKE.

The CAD system is a software package that automatically interprets PET (Positron Emission Tomography) brain scans of patients suspected of having a neurodegenerative disease that leads to dementia, and combines them with MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans for accurate differential diagnosis.

The development of such a system will ultimately mean a better quality of life for patients by enabling earlier prescription of drugs that delay progression of the disease, and hence delay the worst effects of dementia. It will also provide pharmaceutical companies and clinicians with a valuable tool for the development and testing of new, potentially curative drugs for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

‘In the not too distant future there is going to be much greater demand for the accurate early diagnosis of neurodegenerative disease and not everyone will have access to the clinical expertise of a university hospital to obtain it,’ said Dr. Ralph Buchert of the Department of Nuclear Medicine at UKE. ‘The availability of an automated system will help less experienced physicians to achieve the same high level of accuracy in their diagnoses.’

Dementia is a debilitating condition that already affects more than 25 million people worldwide, the commonest form being Alzheimer’s disease.

‘Building on our expertise in multi-modal diagnostic imaging, we’ve combined functional and structural brain-scan information into a fully integrated and easy to use system for diagnosing the principal neurodegenerative diseases that cause dementia,’ said Dr Lothar Spies, Head of the Digital Imaging Department at Philips

The software tool developed by Philips Research and UKE accurately overlays anatomical images of the brain obtained from MRI scans with PET scans that display brain activity – specifically the uptake of glucose that fuels brain activity.

By using image processing and computer learning techniques in combination with a database of reference brain-scans, the system then analyses the images automatically and displays anomalous brain patterns in a concise way. Based on these patterns, it then suggests a diagnosis. As a result, the system will help less experienced doctors to achieve the same diagnostic accuracy as highly trained specialists.

The clinical evaluation that is about to start will run the computer aided diagnostic system alongside UKE’s existing dementia diagnosis procedures with the aim of fine-tuning the system’s ability to detect and differentiate the three most common types of neurodegenerative disease – Alzheimer’s Disease, Lewy-body Dementia and Frontotemporal Dementia.

The interface of the Computer Aided Diagnosis system that automatically interprets PET brain scans of patients suspected of having a neurodegenerative disease