Researchers at the University of Cambridge are trialling an artificial intelligence (AI) tool that could be used to diagnose dementia after a single brain scan.

The team say that the technology could be used to spot patients who are likely to have a slow decline in cognition and memory, which could lead to earlier diagnoses and an improvement in patient outcomes.

The tool is also thought to be able to predict whether the condition will remain stable for many years, slowly deteriorate or rapidly deteriorate and need immediate treatment.

Currently, it can take several brain scans and numerous cognitive tests to diagnose dementia, a process that can take between four and 12 weeks depending on waiting lists.

In pre-clinical trials, the technology, which uses algorithms to detect patterns in brain scans, was able to diagnose dementia years before symptoms develop, even when there were no obvious signs of damage on the brain scan.

A "fantastic development"

Professor Zoe Kourtzi of Cambridge University and a fellow of national centre for AI and data science the Alan Turing Institute, told the BBC: “If we intervene early, the treatments can kick in early and slow down the progression of the disease and at the same time avoid more damage.” She added: "And it’s likely that symptoms occur much later in life or may never occur.”

The trial will continue at Addenbrooke's Hospital as well as other memory clinics around the country and will test whether the technology works in a clinical setting alongside other conventional methods of diagnosing dementia.

Around 500 patients are expected to participate within the first year; their results will then go to their doctors who will be able to advise on the course of treatment, if necessary.

Dr Tim Rittman, consultant neurologist and lead author of the study, told the BBC that the tool was a “fantastic development”. He said: “These set of diseases are really devastating for people, so when I am delivering this information to a patient, anything I can do to be more confident about the diagnosis, to give them more information about the likely progression of the disease to help them plan their lives is a great thing to be able to do.”