Test can detect Alzheimer's in 10 minutes


24-04-2001

Scientists at Cambridge University have developed a test to detect Alzheimer's Disease at an early stage in just 10 minutes.

Studies show the computer test can also distinguish Alzheimer's sufferers from patients with depression and neuropsychiatric disorders with 98 per cent accuracy.



The CANTAB Paired Associates Learning Test is the brainchild of Professor Trevor Robbins and Dr Barbara Sahakian, and was developed at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.



It has already proved to be a highly sensitive tool for early detection of Alzheimer's Disease in patients attending the hospital's Memory Clinic.



The clinic tests people who fear they may be suffering some form of dementia.



A three-year study showed that patients who had questionable dementia at the beginning, but who went on to show cognitive decline over eight months, were the patients with the most errors on the CANTAB-PAL test.



The CANTAB-PAL uses touch-screen computer technology to test people's ability to remember patterns that appear on the screen.



Dr Sahakian said: 'It's quite nice because you sit and look at a computer screen. The test involves looking at different patterns at different places around the screen.



'They try to remember where the pattern was and then when we show it to them again they try point to where it was on the screen. It's quite nice technology and very easy to use - it's a bit like a video game.'



Patients are given 10 attempts to remember the positions of the patterns.



Dr Sahakian said: 'Normal elderly people can do this within 10 goes, but people with Alzheimer's really can't do it even given 10 opportunities.



'I think it's a really big breakthrough because the big problem with Alzheimer's, with people in the early stages, is they have problems with learning new things and this is a test of new learning.



'The CANTAB-PAL's sensitivity to Alzheimer's Disease is related to the fact that the areas of the brain first affected in Alzheimer's Disease are the same areas used when performing the test.



'We anticipate this test will be useful not only for early detection of Alzheimer's Disease but also in measuring the beneficial effects of current pharmacological treatments.'



Dr Sahakian said as scientists begin to develop treatments for the symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease its early detection was becoming increasingly important.



She said: 'It only takes about 10 minutes and you don't have to have blood tests.



'Drug companies are trying to develop even better treatments for the cognitive and behavioural symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease.



'It's great to have a test where we can detect it very early and try treatments out as early as possible.



'We're very excited about it and we think it could be very widely used - it's the type of thing which could be set up in doctors' surgeries.'



By Stuart Leithes

 

The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.

University of Cambridge (cam.ac.uk)