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Major dementia breakthrough could predict disease years earlier

A revolutionary medical test could predict dementia years before official diagnoses with a shocking level of precision.

The test uses MRI scans rather than the conventional memory and shrinkage assessments usually implemented to detect this devastating disorder. Researchers at London's Queen Mary University suggest the use of fMRI scans can forecast the diagnosis up to nine years in advance with an 80 per cent accuracy rate - by seeking very early indications of the condition within brains in their "idle mode".

Led by Professor Charles Marshall, the research team at the Centre for Preventive Neurology at Queen Mary's Wolfson Institute of Population Health examined brain scans of more than 1,100 people focusing on patterns of connections in the brain network when the brain was not focused on any particular task and just wandering.

The 'default mode network' (DMN), which bridges various areas of the brain during cognitive activity, is usually the primary neural network influenced by Alzheimer's disease. Researchers have built a model that predicts who among the group would be diagnosed with dementia, attributing a probability percentage to each patient as their brain scans exhibited reduced connectivity.

The study's predictions were later confirmed in official diagnoses up to eight and a half years later, with the findings published in the Journal of Nature Mental Health. Professor Marshall didn't downplay the significance of this breakthrough, acknowledging that early diagnosis is "vital for developing treatments that can prevent the irreversible loss of brain cells that causes the symptoms of dementia".

He added: "Although we are getting better at detecting the proteins in the brain that can cause Alzheimer's disease, many people live for decades with these proteins in their brain without developing symptoms of dementia."

The MRI studies could also predict, within a two-year margin of error, when an official diagnosis would be made, reports Bristol Live. This new test allows medical professionals to provide more accurate diagnoses of when someone will develop dementia and whether they would benefit from treatment.

However, the technique is far from perfect. Dr Richard Oakly, associate director of research and innovation at Alzheimer's Society, noted that further studies involving more "diverse groups of people" are needed to fully understand the "benefits and limitations" of using MRI to diagnose dementia.