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Early Stage Alzheimer’s Disease Can Now be Diagnosed with Virtual Reality

The University of Cambridge has come up with an eye-opening new study involving virtual reality. According to the research, a VR-based navigation test is more effective in segregating patients who are afflicted by early stage Alzheimer’s disease, when compared to most conventional forms of cognitive tests.

Most researchers today are aware that the entorhinal cortex is one of the very first brain segments to undergo Alzheimer’s disease-related neurodegeneration. It is the part of the brain responsible for tasks related to spatial navigation. One of the earliest Alzheimer’s disease signs is MCI or mild cognitive impairment. Yet, there is no certainty that MCI will lead to Alzheimer’s disease. MCI can come with age and physical exercise can treat it adequately.

The development concept behind this latest virtual reality-based diagnostic setup is a test for pointing out which MCI patients have higher chances of becoming afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease.

According to Dennis Chan from the University of Cambridge, both humans and rodents possess similar brain cells for navigational purposes. Hence, navigation testing might facilitate better outcomes of Alzheimer’s drug tests. It is also a move that can make scientific findings ready for clinical application. Chan elaborated that he and his fellow researchers wanted to conduct such tests for many years, but could not do so until the availability of virtual reality technology.

A VR navigation task. (Credit: University of Cambridge)

A virtual reality-based navigation test was created by the researchers to conduct testing regarding whether a person had an impaired entorhinal cortex. 45 MCI subjects were subjected to the test to evaluate the risks of Alzheimer’s disease. To facilitate the testing process, cerebrospinal fluid samples were extracted from each of the MCI test subjects. It helped to test biomarkers of Alzheimer’s. 12 of the test subjects tested positive for the biomarkers.

The VR-based navigation test drew some interesting conclusions. The researchers discovered that the MCI subjects with biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease could not perform as well as their non-Alzheimer counterparts. Through this test, it was more convenient to identify patients with high risk levels of Alzheimer’s than with any other form of currently available cognitive test.

The advent of this virtual reality tool can effectively simplify detection for most clinical professionals. Apart from successfully being used to detect the presence of Alzheimer’s in patients, the tool can also prove to be beneficial for drug trials of Alzheimer’s. The virtual reality test might also be used for the processes of monitoring how the disease progresses and how much improvement clients experience with drug trials.

The researchers have plans to organise the findings of the study within an application, which will be used to cater this specific test, along with a range of other measurements to inspect the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Mobile devices are ever-present almost everywhere in the world today. Hence, application-based methods to detect the disease can be offered to users at very low costs, and in better ways than currently available diagnostic methods or brain scanning. – Dennis Chen

 

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