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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.

Biden plans to ask public to wear masks for first 100 days in office

Joe Biden. Photo: Mark Makela/Gettu Images

President-elect Joe Biden told CNN on Thursday that he plans to ask the American public to wear face masks for the first 100 days of his presidency.

The big picture: Biden also stated he has asked NIAID director Anthony Fauci to stay on in his current role, serve as a chief medical adviser and be part of his COVID-19 response team when he takes office early next year.

What COVID-19 vaccine trials still need to do

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

COVID-19 vaccines are being developed at record speed, but some experts fear the accelerated regulatory process could interfere with ongoing research about the vaccines.

Why it matters: Even after the first COVID-19 vaccines are deployed, scientific questions will remain about how they are working and how to improve them.