Croatian Physicist Discovers How Alzheimer’s Can Be Detected before Onset of Symptoms

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Sanja Josef Golubić, PhD, has made a ground-breaking discovery that could change the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Sanja Josef Golubić Ph.D., physicists at the Department of Physics, Faculty of Science, University of Zagreb, made global headlines a few days ago when her paper was published in the journal Human Brain Mapping, reports on October 11, 2017.

Ms Josef Golubić has revealed a biomarker which has a potential of detecting Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) even before the onset of symptoms, which has been very difficult to achieve before this ground-breaking discovery.
The biomarker is absolutely non-invasive, and can be detected in neuromagnetic field imaging produced by normal brain activity. If clinical tests prove this method to be true, it could help in identifying the disease even before the first symptoms occur.

It all started a few years ago, before Ms Josef Golubić had obtained her PhD, when her mentor at the University of Science, Selma Supek, PhD, concluded a cooperation agreement with the University of New Mexico.

“The scientist from their lab were working on a project in which they were trying to detect neural activities characteristic of AD. They sent us their MEG (magnetoencephalography) data, measuring brain’s activity in response to sounds, of people with and without AD. My task was to find the difference in processing sounds between healthy elderly subjects and those showing symptoms of AD, and I measured the component which appears 300 ms after exposure to sound,” says the 40-year-old physicist.

According to IFL, the team used magnetoencephalography and recorded the brain activity of people with symptoms of AD and of people without it using auditory tests. The key was the location of the brain – the brains of people without AD reacted to the test, while the brains of people with AD did not.

It all started with tedious calculations
People detect a sound stimulus 100 ms after being exposed to it, and store it into their memory 300 ms after being exposed to it. The component of storing sound into memory is called P300. People suffering from AD have the biggest brain damage in the medial prefrontal cortex, where primary centres for hearing are located. As AD affects people’s memory, the hypothesis was that the P300 will function differently in people suffering from AD.

“We got MRIs and my task was to perform theoretical calculations. It’s called biomagnetic inverse problem calculating and nobody likes doing it. I spent a year doing it, with most of the work being done when I was at home, between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., because that’s when I feel the most productive,” she says.

No new discoveries after one year of research
And there was nothing, at least the beginning.
“I kept doing my calculations, and it turned out that healthy people and people suffering from AD had the same P300. There was no difference. We spent so much time and effort and ended up discovering nothing,” she says. She was very disappointed, but she also felt determined to solve the problem.
“I kept doing my calculations, reviewing each of the one thousand milliseconds of MRIs, which was a lot of work. I noticed that there seemed to be a difference in the way healthy people and people suffering from AD processed the sound stimulus in the first 100 milliseconds, that there was a difference in the brain activity in the temporal lobe,” she says, but her colleagues were not convinced because they felt that the period was too small to be of any significance.

“I kept trying to figure how it was possible that the temporal lobe of healthy people reacted to the sound stimulus in the first 100 ms, and then I realised that this was what science had been trying to figure out for more than 30 years,” she says.

“Three years ago we discovered the novel, third fast sensory processing pathway-gating loop, which directly links primary sensory areas to medial prefrontal cortex within first 80ms after auditory stimulation. We provided strong evidence of the modulatory role of the medial prefrontal generator on the dynamics of generators in primary auditory cortices. We have also noticed the high sensitivity of the gating generators dynamic on AD pathology. It was an inspiration to focus our AD biomarker search in the direction of prefrontal sensory gating generator activation”, Ms Josef Golubić explained expertly in a press release for EurekAlert on October 4, 2017.

Ms Josef Golubić says that her results were published in the journal Human Brain Mapping because she wanted her calculations to come in the hands of other physicists so they could check if they were true.
“This is basic research and a clinical study is needed to confirm the results. If I had published it in the journal Nature, it would reach clinicians, who will confirm or reject my results anyway. Another problem is the fact that Croatia has no MEG lab which we could use to record magnetic fields that the human brain emits. If we did, we would be able to perform this study, so it would be a Croatian biomarker. I might get an offer to do it abroad, but I have two children, so the chances of me accepting the offer are not great,” she concludes.

Excerpts translated from


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