Big data analysis powers the fight against Alzheimer’s: New research helps explain the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and predicts its severity

Alzheimer’s disease has always had its puzzles and contradictions. For Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) researcher Vladislav Petyuk, whose research on the progressive, age-related disease spans over a decade, some of the struggles have come from studies where “we can only connect the dots a pair at a time.”

Petyuk’s research touches multiple areas in biological and computational science at PNNL. He has produced dozens of publications on Alzheimer’s disease. But now he sees the needle moving in the right direction.

“Over the last 10 years,” Petyuk said, “research has been moving away from a single drug target towards focusing more on the proteins that have a role in cognitive resilience.”

Cognitive resilience is a measure of the brain’s ability to continue to work even with a high Alzheimer’s disease neuropathology that would normally produce the hallmark dementia. This means that, in some people, the brain shows the symptoms of the disease, but it does not impact the person’s ability to function. What makes some brains sensitive, and some resilient, is an open question.

Petyuk recently collaborated with a multi-institutional team in a study that examined a large Alzheimer’s disease cohort of over 1800 people. The researchers drew on previously collected blood samples and brain tissue, along with large-scale data analysis to search for central themes in early identification, prevention, and treatment of the disease.

The research findings published in Science Advances (November 2022), help explain the progression of Alzheimer-related dementia in each patient. Further, the findings outline a multilevel biological classification system that predicts disease severity and future neurological symptoms. “Assessment of a patient’s brain and blood proteins, and other biological molecules, reveal patterns that can then be targeted for tailored intervention,” said Petyuk.

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