An assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to map the brain in an effort to detect Alzheimer’s disease earlier.
Dajiang Zhu will lead the five-year, $2.7 million project titled “Mapping Alzheimer’s disease progression trajectories via personalized brain anchor nodes” in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Georgia and the University of North Carolina. They will use large-scale magnetic resonance images to map the brain at onset and during disease at multiple clinical stages.
“This is a new approach to the disease,” Zhu said. “The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is not difficult. It’s to catch it as soon as possible, even at the asymptomatic stage, that’s the challenge.
Zhu and his team will use computational approaches to identify a set of stable brain landmarks as “anchor nodes” and construct novel imaging-based biomarkers across a broad spectrum of Alzheimer’s disease development. Li Wang, an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics, is a co-investigator on this project.
“These biomarkers could give us insight into where patients are in the life of the disease,” Zhu said. “We want to start being proactive in treating this disease, not reactive. If we can delay the onset of disease, it could improve the lives of so many people.
Zhu said he has been studying computational neuroscience and brain mapping in Alzheimer’s disease since his time at the University of Georgia, where he earned his doctorate. Prior to joining UTA, Zhu was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Southern California.
Hong Jiang, chairman and professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, said Zhu’s work could help many people.
“There are very few families who have not been affected by this disease,” Jiang said. “Identifying these biomarkers is the key to earlier detection, which could improve so many lives.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately 50 million people worldwide live with Alzheimer’s disease and forms of dementia, including more than 6 million Americans. The disease kills more people than breast and prostate cancer combined.