the test that promises to detect signs of the disease in 5 minutes

After millions of years of evolution, our brains have inherited a strong ability to react when we see animals.

Scientists linked to the University of Cambridge in England are using this instinct to help detect signs of a syndrome that is a challenge for families and healthcare systems around the world: dementia.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that it already affects 55 million people worldwide and should reach 139 million in 2050.

Dementia is characterized by the deterioration of cognitive functions such as memory and learning. Alzheimer’s disease is its most common form and is behind 60-70% of cases.

Born from the Cambridge researchers’ meeting, Cognetivity Neurosciences has developed a five-minute digital test based on artificial intelligence that detects signs of cognitive decline from animal images displayed on a tablet.

Some photos are less obvious than others, and the user must quickly confirm whether it is an animal or not. The app then displays a score, which can be a warning of cognitive decline.

Cognetivity founders, Sina Habibi and Seyed-Mahdi Khaligh-Razavi, report on the company’s website that they were dealing with cases of dementia in their family when they began looking for solutions to the condition after realizing that their relatives “were diagnosed too late to contain the devastating consequences of the disease”.

However, the test does not make a diagnosis — it has a screening function, that is, it gives indications of a possible problem, which should then be investigated by an expert.

Cognetivity has obtained permission from the US health agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to market the test. There is also a permit of this type in the UK.

The company tells investors that its market cap could reach $11.4 billion by 2026.

In an interview with BBC News Brasil, Sina Habibi stated that the company is “actively looking for partnerships” to enter the Brazilian market.

He also argued that his test, called Integrated Cognitive Assessment (ICA), has “global” potential for being independent of languages ​​and the education a person receives.

Habibi said that in addition to being supervised by doctors, the test, usually sold as a subscription plan, can also be used by ordinary people.

“The ICA can certainly be used to track impairment in people who have some concern about their cognition. We need to encourage monitoring of people with risk factors (such as family cases), and testing can be a valuable tool to that end.” , said Habibi, engineer and doctor in nanotechnology from Cambridge University.

Studies published since 2013

The ICA developers argue that their test differs from others currently used to track signs of dementia, typically done with pen and paper and with very close supervision.

Current tests ask the person being tested to do activities such as drawing, naming illustrated objects, and deciphering codes formed by drawings and numbers.

The creators of the ICA say it is different in that it is digital and requires little follow-up and that it is based on images, which bypasses language barriers or barriers of different educational levels.

Since 2013, the researchers involved in the project have published studies on the developed method and its results in scientific journals such as Scientific Reports and BMC Neurology Journal.

In the most recent study, published this July in Frontiers in Psychiatry, they tested the test’s validity on 230 people — 95 of them considered healthy and 135 who had Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive decline.

The ICA results were similar to those of other tests already commonly used to check cognitive decline, such as the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) and the Addenbrooke Cognitive Exam (ACE), but according to the study, the detection capacity of the ICA is less susceptible to the educational level.

In 2019, a study published in Scientific Reports compared the ICA with five more standard cognitive tests and again showed its independence from schooling.

This same publication justified the bet on the use of images by stating that recent evidence has linked the impairment of “speed and accuracy of visual data processing” to cognitive decline.

“The ICA test benefits from millions of years of human evolution — and the strong reaction of the human brain to animal stimuli. Human observers are very good at recognizing whether rapidly exposed images, in flashes, contain an animal,” says an excerpt from the scientific article.

Although it is already released for commercialization in some countries, the test is still being studied. It is currently being applied in research centers of the British public health system, the National Health Service (NHS).

Asked if being digital could limit access to the test in low-resource settings, Cognetivity’s Sina Habibi said the company is developing a website-based version for people and health care facilities that don’t have access to one. tablet.

The limits of diagnosis

President of the Brazilian Society of Geriatrics and Gerontology of Rio Grande do Sul (SBGG-RS), Dr. João Senger points out that, while most of the screening tests for dementia used today, such as the MoCA, were developed in universities, the ICA it can generate some resistance in academia because it is marketed by a company — although it has its origins in a university, Cambridge, and its team has published scientific articles.

The geriatrician believes that the novelty is welcome if it helps in the early detection of signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s, while at the same time it does not exceed the limits of what it is: a tracking tool.

“It’s not diagnostic, at all,” says Senger, a professor at the Faculty of Medicine at Feevale University, in an interview with BBC News Brasil.

“There is no test or exam in the world to diagnose Alzheimer’s. We have exams that help”, he says, citing the CSF exam, imaging exams such as PET of cerebral amyloid and TAU protein and magnetic resonances capable of showing the volume of the hippocampus , area of ​​the brain linked to memory.

“Alzheimer’s disease starts about 15 years before the clinical manifestation, this is the big problem. There is no exam that diagnoses this phase. And when the clinical phase begins, the patient has already lost many neurons — you can no longer recover. them.”

According to the geriatrician, screening tests usually reach the initial years of clinical manifestation of the disease, but not the previous phase of the years prior to its onset.

Senger also points out the limitations of a patient taking a test such as the ICA alone.

“Sometimes, the depressed patient has cognitive problems, such as forgetfulness. Hypothyroidism can also bring changes in memory. So, the patient can take this test, have a score lower than ideal, but he does not have Alzheimer’s disease. He will need to see a doctor to investigate the result.”

On the other hand, Senger praises the little influence of schooling and language brought about by the Cognetivity Sciences test.

“With the tests we have today, the level of education makes a big difference. This is a big problem in Brazil, where we work every day with people with few years of education.”

About Jenni Smith

She's our PC girl, so anything is up to her. She is also responsible for the videos of Play Crazy Game, as well as giving a leg in the news.

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