VR Test Could Diagnose Very Early Onset Alzheimer’s - Dream Health

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Saturday 7 November 2015

VR Test Could Diagnose Very Early Onset Alzheimer’s


Virtual Reality Test to Monitor Signs of Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease could be identified several years prior to the onset with virtual reality test which can be utilised in monitoring signs of Alzheimer’s disease in people in the age group of 18 to 30 according to research published in the journal Science.The study led by Lukas Kunz of German Centre for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Bonn revealed that people at risk of Alzheimer’s’ tend to have lower activity in a newly discovered network of navigational brain cells known as grid cells.

Researchers at the University of Bonn researched the interactions between various parts of the brain connected to navigation and memory and matched the results with participants who had varied genetic likelihood of developing the ailment.

In order to test the theory, researchers fabricated a virtual space with blue sky, mountains and a grass floor together with everyday object all about the place. Participants were then asked to walk around the space and collect virtual stuff which comprised of basketballs and aubergines and return them back to the same place later on. The participants were monitored by the researchers with the use of fMRI and it was found that those with a higher genetic likelihood of developing the Alzheimer’s, portrayed various neural activity at the time of the trial.

New Ways of Diagnosing Alzheimer’s

The researchers reported in Science that at-risk group portrayed various brain signals several decades prior to the onset of the disease and they passed through differently in a virtual environment. Scientists are of the belief that the results could lead to new ways of diagnosing the disease which presently tend to affect 500,000 people living in the UK.

They also focused on a network of navigational cells - grid cells which was discovered in 2005 and a Nobel Prize had been awarded in 2014 to John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard I. Moser, which had been utilised in navigation as well as memory. Participants at risk of developing Alzheimer’s and those with the e4 variant of the gene APOE had reduced grid cell activity.

Significantly the participants did not tend to perform poorer in the trial but they only utilised a different part of their brain for navigation. Instead of using grid cells, the at-risk participants more likely used the hippocampus which is a part of the brain connected with memory and emotion.

Grid Cell System/Hippocampus

Nikolai Azmacher, a study author to Science comments that this indicates that one can use either the grid cell system or they can use the hippocampus. The differences in the neural activity thus could reveal insights as to why people suffering from Alzheimer’s tend to struggle in navigating the world around them. According to the study, the consequences provide a new line of study for the researchers attempting to comprehend how they could prevent or reverse the effects of dementia. Laura Pipps, from Alzheimer’s Research told the BBC that, though they didn’t know if young people in this study would go on to develop this disease, distinguishing early brain changes linked with genetic risk factors would be important to assist researcher in understanding better why some people would be more vulnerable to the disease later in life. She further added that the risk factors for Alzheimer’s are diverse which includes age, genetics, lifestyle and research seems to be of great importance to enable them to unravel how each of these factors make their contribution to a person’s risk of the disease.

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