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Diagnosis of Alzheimer's could be a Click Away

Update Date: Jan 09, 2013 08:12 AM EST

A new study suggests that the diagnosis of the onset of Alzheimer's disease could be just a click away. 

According to a latest finding by scientists from the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) at The University of Queensland (UQ), the onset of Alzheimer's could be detected using a simple online test.

Professor Lizzie Coulson, study coordinator, said that her research team has identified how Alzheimer's disease impairs the cholinergic basal forebrain in undertaking navigational tasks, according to Medical Xpress.

"One of the areas known to degenerate in Alzheimer's disease is a region called as the cholinergic basal forebrain, implicated in memory and attention," Coulson said. "It has been unclear whether loss of function in this brain area causes the cognitive changes seen early in Alzheimer's disease."

For the study, the researchers tested and analyzed the cognitive changes in mice with basal forebrain degeneration similar to Alzheimer's disease.

"Surprisingly, the mice behaved normally on most of the cognitive tests," she said.

"However on a recall navigation task akin to 'dead reckoning', the mice become disorientated."

According to Coulson, this shows that recall navigation tasks depended a lot on cholinergic neurons, which were known to deteriorate early in Alzheimer's patients.

"By asking patients to perform these navigation tasks, doctors may be able to detect symptoms of Alzheimer's disease much sooner and more cheaply than the MRI tests," she said. "We envision this test could also help to identify patients who would benefit from early administration of current Alzheimer's disease treatments."

It is important to diagnose Alzheimer's disease as early as possible, as the enhancement of the function of cholinergic neurons is possible only when the cells are still healthy.

Professor Coulson is currently working on validating the findings in humans.

Study volunteers are asked to navigate a simple arena on a computer monitor touchscreen while some of the volunteers also have a brain MRI, the report said.

According to Coulson, the tool for diagnosis could be used as early as 2015.

While the patients would take the online test at a memory clinic, the examination could soon be one day done at home computers, says Coulson.

The paper, "Lesions of the basal forebrain cholinergic system in mice disrupt idiothetic navigation," is published in the journal Plos One.

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