A new way of training computers to interpret brain scan images may enable doctors to correctly diagnose different types of degenerative diseases at a much earlier stage.
Chris Taylor and his team at Manchester University's division of imaging science and biomedical engineering are working on analysis of three-dimensional images of the brain obtained from magnetic resonance scans.
The research, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, uses a model-based approach.
Professor Taylor said: "The main features of the brain are captured in a computer model. When a new image is presented to the computer we fit the model to the data and record how much and in what way it differs from the 'average' brain.
"The configuration of a brain can be expressed in terms of a relatively small number of parameters that record the extent to which each pattern of variation is present," Professor Taylor explained.
The values of the parameters give a description of brain shape and can be used to distinguish between normal variation and that due to disease.
"If we can measure the pattern of loss of brain matter we could have a more specific indication of the type of disease and how the degeneration is progressing and thus be in a better position to manage the treatment of patients," Professor Taylor said.