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Medicine Science

Technology To Detect Alzheimer's Takes SXSW Prize 81

Posted by samzenpus
from the catching-it-early dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Being able to diagnose people with Alzheimer's disease years before debilitating symptoms appear is now a step closer to reality. Researchers behind Neurotrack, the technology startup that took the first place health prize at this year's South by Southwest (SXSW) startup accelerator in Austin. The company says their new technology can diagnose Alzheimer's disease up to six years before symptoms appear with 100% accuracy."
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Technology To Detect Alzheimer's Takes SXSW Prize

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    A good screening test is one that identifies a treatable disease.

    • by scottrocket (1065416) <loudfellow@gmail.com> on Thursday March 14, 2013 @07:14AM (#43169707) Journal

      A good screening test is one that identifies a treatable disease.

      Or six years extra for people to try experimental treatments before symptoms kick in. Or six extra years to decide when or how to gracefully leave this world, with dignity.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by gandhi_2 (1108023)

        I dunno.

        I think it's more like being told in 6 years you WILL have alzhiemers and there's nothing you can do about it. And, yes, the test is 100% accurate.

        Depressing.

      • The only way to die with dignity of degenerative disease is to help with research into its cure, even if that means dying because of the treatments you've taken.

        Suicide helps nobody but yourself. I suppose it's your right, but it's totally selfish.
        • Re:What's the point? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Electricity Likes Me (1098643) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @09:34AM (#43170817)

          People with a degenerative disease are losing their mental faculties. It's happening slowly enough that people around them don't notice it immediately, but with time they become more confused and unaware of their surroundings. They become less and less capable of the basic things that get other people through life on a day by day basis. They might not be able to go to the toilet hygenically, they might forget how to cook, they forget where things are - but worse - they forget and become unaware that they even have a condition.

          The joke of old people always thinking nurses are stealing their things is a joke about dementia and shouldn't be a joke at all. From their perspective they put something down, or threw it out, and then later couldn't remember doing that and think it must've been stolen. You have people all around you all the time constantly managing you, but you don't remember who they are or why they're there at times.

          Research the cure? Really? Even if the person was an expert in neurological disease, in that state they would have no chance of remotely helping. You lose your agency and become a burden on your relatives yet are simultaneously likely to drive them away and their last memories of you are not going to be of the person you once were.

          The saddest thing, about Alzheimers and dementia and other conditions of their kind is that by the time you would definitely euthanize yourself, you're incapable of really giving informed consent about it at all. If I could have 6 years of warning that I would have Alzheimer's symptoms later, then the biggest problem would be that I couldn't take a time-delay poison that would kill me after 8 if I forgot to delay it.

          • Research the cure? Really? Even if the person was an expert in neurological disease, ...

            I don't think the GPP was suggesting that everyone start their own research project, but that they should volunteer to be subjects in real ongoing research. There are treatments for AD that work in mice, but have not been used on people because they haven't shown to be 100% safe. Meanwhile millions are losing their minds and dying. I would be good if people could volunteer for risky, possibly lethal, medical experiments, if that could lead to a cure that would help many others. That would give some mean

          • Though in some cases, nurses actually do steal stuff. It happens.
            My mom languished in a nursing home for 10 years, with Alzheimer's and dementia, a very long time actually, before she died. The family made sure no valuables were kept there, so fortunately I can't say I saw it happen from personal anecdote.

            It's heartbreaking to watch someone lose their minds, their memories; their very identity. I'd rather be dead than suffer that. This test is a good thing though, as at least Alz won't be able to snea
        • by tehcyder (746570)

          The only way to die with dignity of degenerative disease is to help with research into its cure, even if that means dying because of the treatments you've taken.

          Suicide helps nobody but yourself. I suppose it's your right, but it's totally selfish.

          Bollocks. You do not have a moral duty to suffer for the sake of other people you don't even know. Before life becomes intolerable, and while I am still capable, if I want to end it, I will.

        • Suicide helps nobody but yourself. I suppose it's your right, but it's totally selfish.

          You say this as if selfishness is a bad thing. Sometimes in this life you just have to look out for yourself. This would count as one of those times.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Suicide helps nobody but yourself.

          1) How is it being selfish if you kill yourself before you start becoming more trouble than you're worth? If you kill yourself cleanly and quickly you cause far fewer problems than if you linger around for years or even decades with alzheimers. Have you ever seen people with late stage alzheimers? A once polite person could go around molesting or attacking people. http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_stages_of_alzheimers.asp [alz.org]
          2) Some insurance companies have policies that will pay out on suicides as long as

      • Re:What's the point? (Score:5, Informative)

        by pchimp (767649) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @09:17AM (#43170681)
        There's growing evidence that treating Alzheimer's early, before substantial amyloid plaques have formed, can quite significantly delay the onset of symptoms. You need early screening tools to implement this.
        • Re:What's the point? (Score:4, Informative)

          by ShanghaiBill (739463) * on Thursday March 14, 2013 @10:49AM (#43171725)

          There's growing evidence that treating Alzheimer's early, before substantial amyloid plaques have formed, can quite significantly delay the onset of symptoms.

          Indeed. If you know you have AD, there are preventative measures you can take to delay, and possibly avoid, the onset. There are antibodies that can eliminate the amyloid plaques, but if you wait too long, there is too much and the antibodies cause fatal brain inflammation. Here is an article with more information: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23217740 [nih.gov]. Wikipedia also has a good overview [wikipedia.org].

    • by hsmith (818216) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @07:34AM (#43169809)
      Now they can figure out who has it, before it is too late. I heard it described as "this test is like before mammograms, when a woman found out she has breast cancer It was always stage 4 at that point". Now, with a test, researchers have a better window to fight it.
      • by eth1 (94901)

        Now they can figure out who has it, before it is too late.

        Now insurance companies can figure out who will get it, so they can make sure they don't get stuck with you.

        I suppose most Alzheimer's patients would be on Medicare, but the long term care insurance companies would love this.

        • Now insurance companies can figure out who will get it, so they can make sure they don't get stuck with you.

          Only in America. Civilized countries don't allow this.

        • by psydeshow (154300)

          Now insurance companies can figure out who will get it, so they can make sure they don't get stuck with you.

          Actually, I think most health insurance companies would consider someone who is set to develop Alzheimer's in six years a pretty good risk. They are likely to be dead within 10 years. There aren't any particularly effective medications, and no expensive medical procedures associated with the disease. There is the cost of placement in a nursing home during the final stages, but that's about it.

    • by tlambert (566799)

      A good screening test is one that identifies a treatable disease.

      It's six years in which to eliminate aluminum in your drinking water and get rid of those aluminum pans, drinking from aluminum cans, and aluminum water bottles. The Wikipedia article on the disease shows links to 3 studies where there is a high correlation between dietary and/or drinking water aluminum exposure and the onset of Alzheimer's.

      Moses' people couldn't make bricks without straw, and your brain can't make amyloid plaques without aluminum.

    • by ledow (319597)

      Don't be stupid.

      A good screening test is one that provides a definitive answer. You DEFINITELY have AIDS / rabies / smallpox, for example. Whether you can treat/cure AIDS/rabies/smallpox? Well, that's something else entirely.

      But if you can't screen to provide a diagnosis, then you can't isolate symptoms, spot OTHER symptoms which may be masked by similar diseases that someone DOESN'T have (and only a screen will tell you that), or work out how to manage the condition, even if you can't treat it. Managem

      • Don't be stupid.

        Despite not agreeing totally with the start of this thread, there is _some_ validity to what was said: From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] (not my favorite source, mind you)

        Principles of screening

        World Health Organization guidelines were published in 1968, but are still applicable today.[2]

        The condition should be an important health problem.

        There should be a treatment for the condition.

        Facilities for diagnosis and treatment should be available.

        There should be a latent stage of the disease.

        There should be a

  • Only on Austin would a music festival give out "startup accelerator" awards...
    • by SQLGuru (980662)

      SXWS isn't a "music festival". There is an interactive, a film, and a music portion. My guess is this was part of the Interactive portion which focuses on tech.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    You morons just posted this article last week. Here's the link:

    Uh oh...

  • by Quakeulf (2650167) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @07:14AM (#43169711)
    This device can detect Alzheimer's, and it sure as hell can detect Alzheimer's!
  • 100% accuracy? (Score:5, Informative)

    by balsy2001 (941953) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @07:16AM (#43169725)
    Not quite in line with the data. FTFA "Kaplan said 100 percent of subjects who scored below 50 percent on the test have gone to receive an Alzheimer's diagnosis within six years, while none of those who scored above 67 have developed Alzheimer's." This doesn't equate to 100% accuracy. What happens between 50 and 67%? Plus it doesn't say what the sample size is. Is it 1, 10, 100, 1000? Some more robust statistics would have been nice. They were probably trying to keep it simple instead of confusing people with 99/99, but they could have said "approaching 100%".
    • Within 6 years is a pretty easy prediction if you ask me.

      My prediction: "100% of those who scored below 100 percent on the test will be stone cold within 100 years at the most". I guarantee it's 100% accurate too.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They've done studies, you know. Sixty percent of the time, it works every time.

    • Especially bad if it turns out that 99% of the people tested scored between 50 and 67...
    • The only peer review study I can find searching for "Neurotrack" and "Alzheimer’s" is "A Behavioral Task Predicts Conversion to Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s Disease" (Zola et al, 2012; doi: 10.1177/1533317512470484). They had 32 mild cognitive impairment and 60 controls, and followed for 3 years.

      From the abstract:

      Scores on the VPC task predicted, up to 3 years prior to a change in clinical diagnosis, those patients with MCI who would and who would not progress to AD and CON participants who would and would not progress to MCI.

      So it's hard to know what data is substantiating the claims we see in TFA. Certainly nothing at a clinical level, but it also seems quite promising. Probably a mix of genui

      • Hate to self-reply, but I've read the paper now – and it's definitely the source paper for the data in the posting (50% and 67% figures are right in the text). Given the paper was published december 2012 and reported a 3-year follow-up, and that the current report claims a 6 year followup, I have to wonder why it took them basically 3 years to publish the original study. In any event, a few more details:

        9 subjects fell into the sub-50% range, 8 of these had further impairment at the time of publicatio

  • Sigh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ledow (319597) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @07:51AM (#43169919) Homepage

    Claim of 100% accuracy.
    A Twitter full of "launch" and "pitch" announcements and not much else.
    A website that is nothing more than a placeholder.

    Yeah, they're going straight into the history books, they are.

    You want me to believe you, publish, and let people rip it apart. If the public-facing part of your whole organisation is talking of nothing more than startup awards and pitches, I don't see how you can be doing proper research, or how you can be selling it to medical establishments. And without bothering to provide evidence of either, I can only assume it's snake-oil.

  • by janek78 (861508) on Thursday March 14, 2013 @08:03AM (#43170031) Homepage

    It is very easy to make a test that detects 100% of patients who will eventually get a disease. Just make it always say "positive" and you're done. The hard thing is balancing the ability to detect a disease and avoid false negatives (sensitivity) with the ability to detect absence of disease and avoid false positives (specificity). Related to this are the positive predictive negative predictive values. Since Alzheimer's is very difficult to diagnose clinically and the only definitive proof is a biopsy/autopsy, I very much doubt a screening test would exist with a 100 % sensitivity and/or specificity.

    • by Cassini2 (956052)
      With a sufficiently small sample size, 100% accuracy is easy to achieve. Confidence limits on the other hand ...
  • Asking "What time is it" every 3 minutes is a pretty good indication of Alzheimer's

  • This will be useful to patients when there's something that can really be done for them once the early diagnosis is made. Right now all of the actions that can be taken are in the "we hope this will slow down the symptoms" category, and the sad fact is that it's hard to even prove that (unless you ask a Big Pharma marketing agent). The big concern is how organizations like medical insurance companies will use such information to the detriment of the patient, as in resulting in sky-high premiums if they ca
  • by Udom (978789)
    "By monitoring the way a person moves their eyes, and watching how they view novel images versus familiar images, we're able to detect perturbations that exist on the hippocampus". That's an unsupported leap. Each of us makes about 250,000 saccades every day and their targeting is controlled by a variety of brain modules, including the amygdala. Saccades are made to targets that hold significance. Alzheimers patients are reported to make far fewer saccades than healthy people, and some studies have shown im

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