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Measuring brain tissue damage accurately identifies cognitive decline, researchers say

Oct. 27 (UPI) — By analyzing brain tissue damage using a new MRI evaluation tool, researchers accurately identified people with early signs of cognitive decline up to 70% of the time, a study published Tuesday by the journal Academic Radiology found.

The approach uses magnetic resonance imaging to identify — and measure the number and size — of bright spots on the mostly gray images of the brain called white matter hyperintensities, or lesions, the researchers said.

These spots have long been linked to memory loss and emotional problems, especially as people age. Now, newly available MRI technologies could make it possible for them to be used for diagnosis of dementia, the researchers said.

“White matter lesion captured by MRI scans may reveal cognitive decline much earlier than behavioral symptoms,” study co-author Jingyun “Josh” Chen told UPI.

“Amounts of white matter lesions above the normal range should serve as an early warning sign for patients and physicians,” said Chen, a research assistant professor of neurology at New York University Langone Health.

Roughly 6 million adults in the United States have dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Although the condition is common, it remains challenging to accurately diagnose, and no effective treatments exist, according to Chen and his colleagues.

The bright spots seen on MRI scans represent fluid-filled holes in the brain — lesions that are believed to develop from the breakdown of blood vessels that nourish nerve cells.

Earlier research has shown that increased numbers of spots and their presence in the center of the brain is linked with worsening dementia and other brain-damaging conditions, such as stroke and depression.

Current methods for grading white matter lesions, however, rely on little more than the “trained eye” using an imprecise three-point scale, according to the researchers.

The new tool, called the white matter hyperintensities toolbox and developed by Chen and his colleagues at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, is intended to provide neurologists with a uniform, objective method for calculating the spots’ volume and location in the brain.

For this study, Chen and his colleagues randomly selected 72 MRI scans from a national database of adults age 70 and older who participated in the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, a research project seeking to identify clinical, imaging, genetic and biochemical biomarkers for the early detection and tracking of Alzheimer’s disease.

Using MRI techniques to map the brain’s surface, the researchers then used the new tool to calculate the precise position and volume measurements for all observed white matter spots or lesions.

When researchers cross-checked their measurements, they found that seven out of 10 calculations correctly matched the patient’s actual diagnosis.

With the standardized tracking and measuring tool, physicians could monitor the growth of white matter lesions in patients with suspected dementia, the researchers said.

White matter brain measures alone are not sufficient to diagnose early dementia, Chen said, but should be considered along with other factors. This includes a history of brain injury, memory loss and hypertension, as well as clear symptoms

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Study identifies 3 existing drugs that may help treat COVID-19

A team of researchers has identified three repurposed drugs that may be effective in treating COVID-19.

In a new study, scientists have found three previously-available drugs that may be effective at treating COVID-19 in its early stages.

The research, which appears in the journal ACS Pharmacology & Translational Science, is valuable in helping researchers identify treatment candidates for clinical trials.

SARS-CoV-2 and its associated disease, COVID-19, have had a profoundly negative effect on global economies, culture, people’s everyday lives, and above all, on people’s health.

To date, there have been more than 1,150,000 recorded deaths from the disease. There is also mounting anecdotal evidence of the long-term negative health effects it can have on people who recover from the initial illness.

Due to COVID-19’s lethality, and the fact that the disease is highly contagious, scientists are rushing to develop a vaccine. However, producing vaccines that are also safe and effective takes a considerable amount of time.

According to a report in The Lancet, on average, vaccines take 10 years to develop. Even with experts greatly accelerating research due to the urgency of the global pandemic, the report notes that an initial vaccine may take more than 18 months to be developed, manufactured, and distributed to people around the world.

Consequently, scientists have been researching vaccines and potential treatments that may ultimately reduce the chance of a person dying if they develop the disease.

This typically involves repurposing previously available drugs that may also be effective in treating COVID-19. This is important as, much like developing a working vaccine, finding new drugs that can treat COVID-19 may take a long time.

To date, the only repurposed drug that has shown signs of being effective is remdesivir, originally developed to treat Ebola in 2014.

However, a recent major World Health Organization (WHO) study has found that remdesivir has no significant effect on COVID-19 mortality.

As a consequence, identifying effective drugs that experts can repurpose to treat COVID-19 is particularly pressing.

In this context, scientists behind the present study took a different approach in the search for potentially effective drugs to repurpose.

Typically, when scientists source drugs to repurpose, they use a technique called high throughput screening (HTS). This involves automating the testing of many different medications, allowing for a much more rapid process than using human teams. Researchers then analyze the results with a computer.

However, according to the current study team, there may be issues with HTS’s reliability and accuracy. Drawing on an article in the journal Patterns, they note that there has been little overlap in the potentially effective drugs identified in HTS studies.

Instead, in their study, the scientists used a ligand-based virtual screening (LBVS) protocol to identify drugs that may act similarly to the drug hydroxychloroquine.

Studies show hydroxychloroquine is effective against SARS-CoV-2 in test-tube experiments, even if it is unlikely to be

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