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2012 New Investigator Research Grant (NIRG)

Detection of early cortical pathology using MEG and speech analysis.

Jed Meltzer, Ph.D.
Rotman Research Institute of Baycrest
Toronto, Ontario - Canada

Because Alzheimer's disease brain changes begin years before clinical symptoms appear, many researchers are searching for methods of identifying Alzheimer's before the development of noticeable symptoms, such as memory loss and confusion. Early detection is vital to developing therapies than can slow or halt disease progression. One of the earliest signs of cognitive loss in dementia is a change in speech patterns. Such changes can involve difficulty in finding words, as well as problems with syntax (proper word order) or semantics (proper word meaning). Research has shown that these subtle changes can lead to the severe memory loss characteristic of Alzheimer's.

Jed Meltzer, Ph.D., and colleagues have been developing a statistical method for quantifying dysfunctional speech patterns that may lead to cognitive loss. Part of this effort involves determining whether an individual's speech loss is syntactic or semantic. Because different areas of the brain are associated with different speech problems, knowing the exact nature of a speech impediment enables researchers to better clarify how that impediment may affect Alzheimer's brain degeneration.

For their current study, Dr. Meltzer and colleagues will use their statistical method to analyze speech patterns from participants with Alzheimer's disease and with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition that may precede clinical dementia. The participants will then receive magnetoencephalography (MEG) tests, which indicate changes in the brain's electrical activity. They will also undergo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to detect areas of brain cell loss and cerebral blood flow problems. The researchers hope to link the participants' identified speech problems with specific areas of the brain that show deficits in cell-to-cell signaling and brain cell damage. Overall, the results of this effort could validate the use of linguistic analysis as a sensitive method for diagnosing early cognitive decline and neurodegeneration.

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