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IRVINE : Computers Can Help Diagnose Alzheimer’s

Researchers at UC Irvine, in collaboration with Pacific Bell and Aerospace Corp., have developed new computer technology that can help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages, when some of the symptoms can be slowed by drug therapy, officials said Friday.

The computer system works in several areas, said Dr. Rodman Shankle, clinical director of UCI’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

First, it will enable any computer owner to obtain detailed information on the degenerative disease though the Internet, along with self-memory tests that can determine whether additional medical tests may be necessary.

The more advanced part of the network, which must be linked to participating medical centers, will transmit detailed pictures of the brain called magnetic resonance images (MRIs) to research centers.

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With the technology, doctors will be able to detect slight changes in the hippocampus--the area of the brain first affected by Alzheimer’s--that cannot be seen using ordinary methods, Shankle said.

“Usually people wait for years to see someone about a memory problem. They’re often embarrassed and try to hide it until they can no longer hide it,” Shankle said. “But if we can detect it within the first year, there’s potential therapy that can slow the disease, and new drugs that are coming out. But we need to get to people before they’re halfway through the disease.”

The computer network will also allow greater communication between family physicians and Alzheimer’s specialists, Shankle said. Alzheimer’s disease, first identified in 1906, attacks the brain and results in impaired memory, thinking and behavior.

The research was funded by a grant from California Research and Education Network, which is affiliated with Pacific Bell.

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The World Wide Web address for the Alzheimer’s information is https://www.alz.uci.edu.


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