IBM's AI Blood Test Could Detect Alzheimer's Earlier Than a Brain Scan

The new machine learning method can help detect the disease before symptoms even start.
Loukia Papadopoulos

There is unfortunately still no cure for Alzheimer's. The disease, that wreaks havoc on the brain, has seen countless clinical trials all trying to find a treatment with little luck.


It has been speculated that this is because those trials are done with subjects that have such advanced Alzheimer's that their brains cannot be easily repaired. Now, IBM is using machine learning to create a blood test that could possibly detect the disease decades before the symptoms even start.


Their technique is based on tracking a peptide called amyloid-beta that is said to show signs of the disorder before memory loss progresses.

Study lead Ben Goudey wrote in a blog that his team used "machine learning to identify a set of proteins in blood that can predict the concentration of amyloid-beta in spinal fluid."

"The models we built could one day help clinicians to predict this risk with an accuracy of up to 77 percent," he added.

The researcher explained that the method is still in the early phases of research. However, he notes it could aid in a better choice of individuals for clinical trials.

Better clinical trials

New studies could be conducted with patients with mild cognitive impairment but higher amyloid concentrations. These concentrations in the spinal fluid have been found to increase the chances that the disease progresses by 2.5 times.


Unfortunately, harvesting spinal fluid is extremely invasive and expensive and therefore not suitable for determining who should be part of drug trials. This is where IBM's work comes in.

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The study is the first to use a "machine learning approach to identify sets of proteins in blood that are predictive of a biomarker in spinal fluid," added Goudey. "This approach is easily extended to model other spinal fluid-based biomarkers."

The development is a welcome addition in the fight against Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases that happen as we age. As people tend to live longer, we need all the help we can get for managing the effects of an aging population, giving people a better quality of life.

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