Alzheimer's 'Could Bankrupt Nations'

Chris Higgins | Wired UK | April 29, 2014

"We're looking at the first disease in modern history that has the potential to bankrupt nations," said Elli Kaplan at Wired Health this morning.

She was talking about Alzheimer's disease, which every six seconds is developed by another human being. That's 4.5 million new cases a year. Those numbers have seen Alzheimer's jump from the sixth leading cause of death in the US to third, behind heart disease and cancer. Yet the treatment, detection and funding of the disease still lags well behind those others, including HIV/AIDs. Elli Kaplan hopes to change all of that, first with a new early detection test capable of being conducted through a webcam at home, and secondly by banging the drum for government intervention.

The test, conducted by Kaplan's software Neurotrack, looks at the first areas of the brain to be affected by Alzheimer's: vision-associated memory centres. Using infra-red eye-tracking, the software determines the amount of time the subject spends looking at one of two pictures presented simultaneously on a screen. One of the images will be part of a set the subject has seen already in the test, the other will be novel to them. By measuring the proportion of time the subject spends looking at the newer image, Kaplan's team has discovered a remarkably accurate prediction marker for developing Alzheimer's. One hundred percent of subjects who spent an equal amount of time looking at both images, scoring below 50 on the test, went onto develop Alzheimer's. Those who scored 60 or above did not.