Using artificial intelligence to understand the causes of Alzheimer’s disease

Research project: In vivo molecular imaging of early pathology in Alzheimer’s disease using positron emission tomography.

Lead Investigator: Dr Ashwin Venkataraman

  • Institution: Imperial College London
  • Grant type: Clinical Training Fellowship
  • Duration: 30 months 
  • Amount: £159,658

Why did we fund this research?

Comments from our Research Network volunteers:

‘I do feel there is a bigger picture that is being missed at the moment, and this research might be another piece of the jigsaw.’

Project summary

The research team will use cutting-edge scanning and artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to understand how the proteins tau and amyloid affect the energy producing batteries of the cell (mitochondria) and the connections between brain cells (synapses) in the people with Alzheimer’s disease.

The background

Although research tells us more about dementia everyday there is still a lot to learn about the underlying causes of the condition.

Researchers believe that two proteins, amyloid and tau, which are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, build up in and around the brain cells. These proteins affect the cell’s energy producing batteries, known as mitochondria, as well as the connections between cells, synapses. 

Damage and disruption to synapses and mitochondria is believed to play a part in the loss of brain cells in Alzheimer’s disease, leading to memory and thinking problems. 

What does this project involve?

Dr Venkataraman aims to investigate how mitochondria and synapses function in the brain cells of people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer’s disease using cutting edge brain scanning techniques – known as PET scans.

The team will scan the brains of 24 people with MCI and Alzheimer’s disease at the beginning of the study and then in a years’ time. These scans will be compared to healthy volunteers.

The scans will also be analysed using artificial intelligence techniques with scans from other large studies to see patterns in changes to mitochondria and synapses in people who have MCI and Alzheimer’s disease.

How will this project help people with dementia?

This research will shed light on the biological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, tau and amyloid and the impact they have on brain cells. This type of technology will help us track the progression of Alzheimer’s, and most importantly may help in the development of new treatments for Alzheimer’s in the future.