Space satellite software to scan for Alzheimer’s
Software normally used to analyse pictures taken from space is now being repurposed for use in large-scale screening programmes for Alzheimer’s.
The AlzTools 3D Slicer tool uses techniques in the European Space Agency’s Envisat satellite software to examine the results of magnetic resonance imaging scans (MRIs).
The software is able to pick out and identify specific elements of each image. In terms of space satellite photography that might be fields or roads, in terms of brain scans it’s finding areas which may have atrophied.
"If you have a space image and you have to select part of an image — a field or crops — you need special routines to extract the information," explained Carlos Fernández de la Peña of Elecnor Deimos, a technology company specialising in areas like aerospace. "Is this pixel a field, or a road?"
To adapt the algorithms for medical purposes the Deimos researchers worked with specialists and medical doctors. One such specialist, Ricardo Insausti Serrano, explained, “I looked at images, and told them which part has which function. For example, profound atrophy in the temporal lobe can be quantified. As long as you know where to look, you can make an approximation about how much volume has been lost.”
The goal of the technology is not to replace medical expertise but to enable scanning on a wider scale. Such scans would function in a similar way to mammograms, offering early detection of the disease or flagging up warning signs.
As Insausti Serrano says, “We want something that doesn’t require the latest equipment to give prognoses and early treatment.”