The National Institutes of Health awarded $ 2.7 million to a UMass Lowell researcher studying the course of Alzheimer’s disease.
Funded by the NIH National Institute on Aging, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Associate Professor Joyita Dutta aims to develop models that predict the progression of tau tangles in the brain. While tau is an important protein that helps stabilize nerve cells in the brain, in Alzheimer’s disease, an abnormal form of tau builds up inside nerve cells and develops into tangles. Along with amyloid plaques, which are abnormal proteins that build up between nerve cells, tau tangles are the primary markers for Alzheimer’s disease.
Dutta heads UMass Lowell’s Biomedical Imaging and Data Science Lab, which develops new image and data processing tools that merge traditional signal processing with the emerging field of data science.
For the Alzheimer’s disease study, Dutta, who is the only researcher on the five-year grant, will look at the disease from a network perspective, looking at the interconnections between regions of the brain.
She will use machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) tools to create models from existing patient imaging data, available from two sources: the Harvard Aging Brain Study and the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. AI tools will be applied to tau measurements obtained from positron emission tomography (PET) scans and structural connectivity information obtained from diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) scans to make personalized predictions of future tau accumulation.
Our approach is data driven. There are a lot of cool AI tools that we can use that we didn’t have five or ten years ago. “
Joyita Dutta, UMass Lowell researcher
While the causes of Alzheimer’s disease are not fully understood, the number of people affected by the disease continues to grow. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2020, up to 5.8 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease. That number is expected to reach 14 million by 2060. There is currently no known cure for the disease, but research indicates that early diagnosis is essential to treat it.
âScientists know that people with Alzheimer’s disease undergo latent changes in the brain before clinical signs of the disease, such as memory loss, show up,â Dutta said. Imaging can help document changes in the brain and be used to help predict future risks of cognitive decline.
âAlzheimer’s disease has a slow progression that needs to be monitored over time,â she said.
Dutta is a professor at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. The grant was awarded to him by Mass General. UMass Lowell, as a subcontractor, will receive $ 1.76 million over the life of the project.
Dutta won previous NIH funding for imaging-focused Alzheimer’s disease research, as well as sleep measurements as a diagnostic tool for the disease.
The latest research project will provide hands-on experience to several graduate students in the disciplines of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Physics. It will also support a full-time postdoctoral researcher.
“This will be a great opportunity to train the next generation of Alzheimer’s disease researchers,” she said.
University of Massachusetts Lowell