News Brief

PHILADELPHIA - A new measurement tool can identify cognitively normal adults who are at high risk for cognitive decline, according to a new study by collaborators at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Medical School. The study is published in the December 21, 2011, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The team looked at measurements of cortical thickness in the brain, an indicator of brain atrophy usually due to loss of neurons or their connections. Using MRI scans, they measured cortical thickness in several brain regions that had previously been shown to be associated with the injury due to early Alzheimer’s disease. In this case, these measurements were obtained in cognitively normal adults who were followed over time, allowing the researchers to assess whether cortical thinning in these regions tracked with their cognitive abilities.  

Researchers found that individuals at high risk for preclinical Alzheimer’s Disease, based on reduced cortical thickness in these regions, were more likely to experience cognitive decline, which developed in 21 percent of cases, compared with 7 percent of average risk cases, and 0 percent of low risk cases.

"The ability to determine who is at greatest risk for Alzheimer’s Disease among cognitively normal older adults may allow us to better focus preventative interventions on these patients prior to their developing symptoms," said study co-author David Wolk, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology and Assistant Director of the Penn Memory Center. "Further research is needed to explore whether this measure alone, or in combination with other diagnostic tools, bests predicts future development of Alzheimer’s Disease." 

For additional information, please see the AAN press release and the Neurology study.

Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $5.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 18 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $373 million awarded in the 2015 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center -- which are recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report -- Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2015, Penn Medicine provided $253.3 million to benefit our community.

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