University of Cambridge study identifies potential for VR to spot early Alzheimer’s

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A new study from researchers at the University of Cambridge suggests that virtual reality (VR) can identify early Alzheimer’s disease more accurately than current cognitive tests.

The study revealed that subjects with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) who wore a VR headset and attempted to navigate a simulated environment performed worse than the healthy control group.

Of the MCI sufferers whose cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) contained positive biomarkers of underlying Alzheimer’s disease, and so are at risk of developing dementia, performed worse than those at low risk.

The University of Cambridge study also found that the VR navigation task was better at differentiating between these low and high risk MCI patients than a battery of tests currently used to diagnose Alzheimer’s.

“These results suggest a VR test of navigation may be better at identifying early Alzheimer’s disease than tests we use at present in clinic and in research studies,” commented Dr Dennis Chan, who led the team of scientists at the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with professor Neil Burgess at UCL. The results of their study were published in the journal Brain.

Chan continued: “The brain cells underpinning navigation are similar in rodents and humans, so testing navigation may allow us to overcome this roadblock in Alzheimer’s drug trials and help translate basic science discoveries into clinical use.”

“We’ve wanted to do this for years, but it’s only now that VR technology has evolved to the point that we can readily undertake this research in patients.”

Image credit: University of Cambridge