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A new AI model is able to predict future onset of Alzheimer's disease around 7 years in advance of diagnosis using short speech tests, according to a new study published in The Lancet eClinicalMedicine.

The big picture: There's still no treatment for Alzheimer's, meaning that there could be limited real-world demand by patients for such a tool today. But it could also be valuable for recruiting patients for clinical trials for potential treatments.

Details: The model, developed by IBM Research and Pfizer, analyzed speech samples provided by the Framingham Heart Study, a long-term study that has been tracking thousands of people since 1948.

  • The samples were collected before the subjects began showing signs of cognitive impairment. Researchers then trained AI algorithms to correctly predict the eventual onset of Alzheimer’s disease in healthy participants.
  • “The production of speech is an intensely cognitive task. There is no preformed train of thought or train of words that is sitting somewhere in your head, and all you have to do is pull it out," IBM's Ajay Royyuru, vice president of Healthcare Research, told Axios.

Why it matters: “It's not yet part of any clinical assessment that anybody does, but it could become part of what you do with some frequency," Royyuru said.

  • He also said that this kind of tool could be used to recruit patients who are the right stage of the disease for clinical trials, which could help increase the odds of finding an Alzheimer's drug that works.
  • "Early interventions can only be effectively tested and implemented if the population that stands to benefit can be identified," the study's authors write.

The bottom line: An Alzheimer's treatment has so far proved to be frustratingly elusive, but new technology could help eventually find one and identify patients who would most benefit from early intervention.

Go deeper

Nov 20, 2020 - Health

WHO recommends against use of remdesivir as COVID-19 treatment

One vial of the drug Remdesivir lies on a table. Photo: Ulrich Perrey/AFP via Getty Images

A World Health Organization panel of experts on Thursday recommended against the use of Gilead Sciences' remdesivir as a COVID-19 treatment.

Why it matters: The recommendation breaks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which approved the antiviral drug as a COVID-19 treatment in October.

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress sprints to meet crush of deadlines

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Congressional leaders have been pushing off vital action for months — and a lot of it will catch up with them in December, which begins Wednesday.

Driving the news: Funding for the federal government is set to expire at midnight on Friday. There are also consequential deadlines related to the debt limit, President Biden's agenda and annual actions like voting on the National Defense Authorization Act.