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2014 Biomarkers Across Neurodegenerative Diseases Grant (BAND)

Interpreting disease heterogeneity in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease

Mallar Chakravarty, Ph.D.
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)
Toronto, Ontario - Canada

Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are both associated with damage to the brain, but they have different effects on brain function and behavior. In early stages, Alzheimer’s disease more typically affects memory, while Parkinson’s disease typically affects control of movement, due to different areas of the brain being initially impacted.

Using modern brain imaging methods, scientists can observe changes in the brain associated with both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, although these brain changes do not always correlate with clinical symptoms of the disease. Furthermore, some of the same brain changes can be observed in people who have no impairments in brain function. Thus, currently available brain imaging methods alone cannot provide a definitive diagnosis of either condition.

Mallar Chakravarty, Ph.D., and colleagues have developed new methods for analyzing existing brain images. Using these methods, the researchers can create a sophisticated map of the brain regions thought to be affected by Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Chakravarty has proposed a series of studies to determine if these advanced brain mapping methods can detect differences in brain structure between people who have Alzheimer’s vs. Parkinson’s, and those who are cognitively and functionally healthy. Another goal of the research is to better understand why some people have evidence of brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, but do not show clinical symptoms of the disease. These studies may advance the development of imaging methods that can be used to more effectively diagnose and monitor disease progression. In addition, a better understanding of the mechanisms that contribute to some people being more resilient to neurological disease may suggest new ways to prevent or treat disease progression.

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