Campus: CSU Northridge -- April 10, 2002
CSUN Research Could Lead to Early Detection of Alzheimer's
In a quiet laboratory in a corner of the Cal State Northridge campus,
three graduate students are helping CSUN psychology professor Maura
Mitrushina and UCLA psychologist Steve Berman search for early markers
of Alzheimer's disease.
They are comparing the brain waves of normal healthy elderly people
to those of older people suffering from Alzheimer's disease in hopes
of finding physiological markers that can eventually help doctors and
clinicians differentiate between people who are experiencing symptoms
of the normal cognitive decline associated with aging and those suffering
"Alzheimer's is very difficult to diagnose, particularly in the
early stages," Mitrushina said, adding that it is often hard to
differentiate between reversible dementias and Alzheimer's.
"If we can come up with a way to identify Alzheimer's disease with
better precision, then we can start treating those with reversible dementias
and find the optimal treatment much earlier to ensure the highest comfort
and quality of life for Alzheimer's patients," she said. "They
would know what is coming and could plan for the future better."
So far, their work seems promising. At a recent conference in Toronto,
Canada, Mitrushina, Berman and Northridge graduate students Tim Antolin,
Johnny Wen and Brian Choi, presented a paper reporting a significant
difference between the brain waves of normal aging adults and those
"I know that other scientific groups are certainly interested in
Alzheimer's," Berman said. "But I don't know of any looking
at electrophysiological responses during a visual memory task. We have
found a few studies of EEGs (electroencephalograms), but there has not
been a lot reported."
What Berman and Mitrushina are doing is monitoring the brain waves of
normal elderly people and comparing them with those of people suffering
from Alzheimer's while subjects perform some simple memory tests.
"[Alzheimer's] is a progressive disease. Among patients who initially
function at the same level, some are going to be dead in a year - after
experiencing a steep decline in the course of their illness - while
others are going to look about the same cognitively. We would like to
be able to give the victims and their families better prognostic information,"
Berman said. "The idea is that the electroencephalographic responses
we can get in the early stages may be predictive, before people have
Berman and Mitrushina said their research is still in the early stages.
"We still have a lot of work to do, and it's difficult to get participants
to study because we are working with Alzheimer's patients, but it does
look promising," Mitrushina said.
Graduate student Tim Antolin, who is finishing up his work towards a
master's degree in clinical psychology, has worked on the project for
more than two years.
"It's been a long process. We had to get the lab in working order,
and then find subjects with Alzheimer's we could work with, but so far
the results have been positive," he said. "It is really nice
knowing that what we're doing could make a difference in someone else's