School of Medicine

Risk of Alzheimer’s dementia may be predicted with help of new tool

Using demographic information, brain imaging test results and genetic biomarkers, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have developed an algorithm that can help provide people who volunteer for studies of aging with information about the risk each faces of developing dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease.

Published Sept. 30 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s and Dementia, the findings — from researchers with the university’s Knight Alzheimer Disease Research Center (Knight ADRC) — may help study participants learn more about what their futures hold, in terms of risk for dementia related to Alzheimer’s. The research also eventually may help others determine whether they face risk of the debilitating disorder.

“Thousands of adults have volunteered for studies at Alzheimer’s research centers around the country,” said principal investigator Sarah M. Hartz, MD, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry. “They come back and undergo tests year after year, including PET (positron emission tomography) and MRI scans, blood draws, cognitive tests, and lumbar punctures that measure proteins in spinal fluid. Those studies advance the overall understanding of Alzheimer’s disease, but they give participants relatively little information about their own risk. This algorithm is a way to help illuminate that information and to let individuals know whether they have a significant risk for dementia related to Alzheimer’s disease.”

Hartz and co-principal investigator Jessica Mozersky, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine in the university’s Bioethics Research Center, examined the various factors that contribute to Alzheimer’s dementia, and they used that information to create an algorithm aimed at estimating an individual’s absolute risk of developing early symptoms of dementia from Alzheimer’s. They developed the algorithm for use in a clinical trial to learn whether they could help volunteers participating in aging studies at the Knight ADRC better understand what biomarkers for disease they might have, and whether researchers then could evaluate participants’ eventual outcomes.

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