International Panel Reports First Global Harmonized Protocol For Measuring Key Brain Region Tied to Memory

Jul 16, 2012, 18:30 ET from Alzheimer's Association

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, July 16, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- An international panel of experts has developed the first global harmonized protocol for measuring a key region of the brain tied to memory, according to research reported today at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference® 2012 (AAIC® 2012) in Vancouver.

The harmonized protocol for measurement of the hippocampus, development of which was funded by the Alzheimer's Association®, will be presented to the broader Alzheimer's research community for review and input at AAIC 2012. The protocol will then be validated with data derived from healthy and diseased brain tissues, and compared for accuracy and consistency against protocols currently used in Alzheimer's research.

The hippocampus is a part of the brain important for memory. Changes in the size of the hippocampus measured by MRI may prove to be a key biomarker* for Alzheimer's disease. For example, measurements of hippocampal atrophy may be used to help select research subjects with greater likelihood of progression to Alzheimer's for participation in clinical trials.

"However, different methods of data gathering and analysis around the world lead to different size estimates, hampering comparison of studies and clinical use," said Maria Carrillo, PhD, Alzheimer's Association Senior Director of Medical and Scientific Relations. "Thus, there is an urgent need to define a global harmonized protocol for measurement of the hippocampus."

* A biomarker is something in the body that can be objectively measured as an indicator of normal biological processes, disease processes, or responses to therapy. For example, cholesterol levels are a biomarker for heart disease. A variety of imaging (amyloid PET, whole brain and hippocampal MRI) and fluid (amyloid and tau protein levels in blood and cerebrospinal fluid) biomarkers are under investigation in Alzheimer's disease.

"Biomarkers will be most useful for better diagnosis and earlier detection of Alzheimer's when they are administered, gathered and measured in the same way around the world," Carrillo said. "Because of the great importance of advancements in biomarkers to improving Alzheimer's diagnosis and speeding drug development, the Alzheimer's Association is spearheading several important efforts for global harmonization of Alzheimer's imaging and fluid biomarkers."

To prepare the harmonized protocol reported at AAIC 2012, neurologist Giovanni Frisoni, MD, of the National Alzheimer's Centre in Brescia, Italy and colleagues, first surveyed the 12 most used protocols for the manual segmentation of the hippocampus in the Alzheimer's literature. They divided the hippocampus into several blocks (segmentation units, or SUs) and measured how informative and reliable each block was in the measurement of Alzheimer's-related atrophy.

This data was given to a panel of 16 international experts in hippocampal segmentation who developed the first draft of the Harmonized Protocol. This draft protocol was provided to five independent international research centers who were asked to segment a sample of 40 brains using the methods and landmarks described in the Harmonized Protocol. These "benchmark" MRI images were used to improve the Harmonized Protocol – to reduce ambiguity, aid comprehension and improve compliance with the protocol, and provide reference descriptions and images to assist with future problem solving.

"The availability of a standard and shared protocol for hippocampal volumetry measured on magnetic resonance images provides researchers with an international standard of measurement that will help validate the new Alzheimer's diagnostic criteria and encourage their use in clinical settings, enable comparisons of the effect of disease modifying drugs, and represent the gold standard for automated segmentation algorithms," Frisoni said.

About AAIC

The Alzheimer's Association International Conference (AAIC) is the world's largest conference of its kind, bringing together researchers from around the world to report and discuss groundbreaking research and information on the cause, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of Alzheimer's disease and related disorders.  As a part of the Alzheimer's Association's research program, AAIC serves as a catalyst for generating new knowledge about dementia and fostering a vital, collegial research community.

About the Alzheimer's Association

The Alzheimer's Association is the world's leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer care, support and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer's disease through the advancement of research, to provide and enhance care and support for all affected, and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer's. For more information, visit or call 800-272-3900.

SOURCE Alzheimer's Association