Brain health monitoring and early detection of neurodegenerative diseases: a promising future
Neurodegenerative diseases (NDDs) remain a significant public health challenge, causing a high burden of disability and mortality worldwide. Recent figures show that NDDs are the second leading cause of death worldwide, resulting in 276 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) and 9 million deaths annually. Of these, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is particularly severe. It causes 28.7 million DALYs and 2.4 million fatalities each year. Nearly 500,000 new cases of Alzheimer’s disease are expected to be diagnosed each year. Parkinson’s Disease, in turn, is linked to 3.6 million years of DALYs and leads to the deaths of 211,000 people.
Myllylä and his team are pushing the boundaries to measure brain activity using wearable and wireless technology. Ultimately, they hope that their research could one day result in a breakthrough of applications capable of detecting the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease or other neurodegenerative diseases before any symptoms appear.
Their device, Glymphometer, utilises light to monitor brain fluid dynamics and possible disorders it causes in the brain, providing real-time assessment of a patient’s brain health. For instance, the device is capable of distinguishing AD patients from healthy controls based on a 5 minutes measurement. The next phase of their research involves determining how early they can detect the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or other neurodegenerative diseases before any symptoms appear, which would be a significant breakthrough in the field.
Early intervention is crucial for successful therapeutics and underscores the importance of developing new technologies and tools to detect and treat neurodegenerative diseases as early as possible.
Multidisciplinary cooperation across organisations and countries
In Oulu, Finland, Myllylä’s team works in the Health Sciences and Technology research unit. They conduct multidisciplinary research with various departments at the University of Oulu, including the Faculty of Medicine and Information Technology and Electrical Engineering (ITEE), the Center for Wireless Communications (CWC), as well as with VTT (Technical Research Centre of Finland). The possibility of performing preclinical research in Oulu jointly with the Oulu Biocenter (BCO) and Oulu University Hospital is also highly important.
To validate their methods and further develop the technology, the team closely collaborates with various medical centres and institutes worldwide. At present, they start to collect significant amounts of brain data from patients and healthy controls in Finland, USA, Germany and the Netherlands using the developed wireless brain monitoring technology. This will also open up the possibility to study the use of 5G and, in the future, 6G in emerging healthcare applications and to streamline data collection, as their aim is to gather data from hundreds of patients each year. By analysing this extensive dataset, they aim to develop machine-learning-based methods to calculate index values for the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
The G Index: A Personalized Approach to Brain Health Monitoring
A central component of Myllylä’s research is the so-called Glymphatic system activity index (G Index), a measure of brain clearance activity. Early results indicate that this index is impacted by elements such as sleep quality and daily tasks. The goal of his research is for individuals to be able to monitor their G Index and make adjustments to their lifestyles to reduce the risk of developing brain disorders. For maintaining optimal cognitive health, monitoring the G Index twice daily could eventually become a common practice among people 40-70 years old, as this age range is most critical when observing one’s cognitive health.
Myllylä’s team is working with partners in the United States and the Netherlands to study how daily activities affect brain clearance activity. By understanding how these activities impact the G Index, they hope to offer recommendations on lifestyle changes that could improve brain health and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
Future of early NDD detection
Professor Myllylä’s research offers a promising glimpse into the future of brain health monitoring at home and the early detection of neurodegenerative diseases. As wearable technologies and direct sensing techniques continue to advance, we may soon see a world where individuals can take charge of their brain health, making informed decisions to minimise their risk of developing debilitating conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
In the future, Myllylä believes his team can develop a system for continuous brain health monitoring that can detect and alert individuals when their G Index starts to deviate from its normal range. This could offer people enough time to make lifestyle changes and/or start clinical therapies before any irreversible brain damage has been done. Could this be a game-changing path in the fight against neurodegenerative diseases?
For a deeper insight into brain health monitoring and early detection of neurodegenerative diseases, check out Professor Teemu Myllylä’s speech on ubiquitous healthcare for the brain.