08 August 2008
By Umesh Isalkar
Kaustubh SupekarWhat social networking sites have to do with Alzheimer’s disease? A lot, says a PhD student from Pune, whose research has grabbed the attention of experts in the West. Kaustubh Supekar, a PhD student with the department of biomedical informatics of the Stanford University School of Medicine (SUSM), has made a breakthrough research by using concepts borrowed from popular social networking sites like Facebook.
The research assumes significance as early diagnosis can prompt treatment of reversible symptoms and help in slowing down the progression of the disease and may ultimately help in finding a cure for the disease.
The test, which relies on common brain–imaging techniques, may be the first step towards a new diagnostic tool to differentiate early–stage Alzheimer’s disease from other disorders. “People struggle with memory loss as a part of healthy ageing or as a result of depression or non–Alzheimer’s dementia. It’s important to be able to tell the difference,” Supekar told TOI.
“Our research has shown that a healthy brain follows the principles of small–worldness that govern social network sites such as Facebook,” he said. For example, the brain consists of hub regions that communicate with other hub regions and non–hub brain regions. These hub regions can be thought of people who are very well connected in Facebook.
In Facebook, two users are likely to know each other through this popular person since he is very well connected. The popular person (social–hub) is a very critical person in the social network. If you take him out, it will be very difficult for non–socialhubs to communicate.
“We found that in Alzheimer’s disease, these hub regions are targeted first, which may explain memory loss and confusion – the characteristics of the disease,” Supekar said, adding that brain imaging data obtained from these hub brain regions can be used to diagnose Alzheimer’s.
With the lack of drugs to cure dementia, an early diagnosis of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease will allow prompt treatment of reversible symptoms, which will help slow down the progression of the disease and may ultimately aid in finding a cure for the disease, said Supekar, whose ongoing PhD dissertation research work is on developing imaging–based biomarkers for early–stage detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Supekar has bagged the 2007 Kathryn Grupe Award for excellence in research on Alzheimer’s from the Alzheimer’s Association of Northern California and Northern Nevada.