University of Calgary

Study advances consistent terminology for vascular dementia research

UToday HomeJuly 31, 2013

Eric Smith, associated professor of neurology in the Faculty of Medicine, holds the Katthy Taylor Chair in Vascular Dementia.Eric Smith, associate professor of neurology in the Faculty of Medicine, holds the Katthy Taylor Chair in Vascular Dementia.Vascular dementia is the second most prevalent dementia after Alzheimer’s disease, accounting for about 20 per cent of all dementia cases. The identification of the disease is dependent on reliable neuroimaging such as MRI. To date, inconsistencies in terminology and definitions of lesions on the brain have hindered progress in the field of vascular dementia research.

A new multinational study involving researchers from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine hopes to speed progress in this area by introducing a new set of standards. The study, “Neuroimaging standards for research into small vessel disease and its contribution to ageing and neurodegeneration,” was published online in the journal Lancet Neurology.

The problem: Inconsistent standards hamper research

“If two people can’t agree on something, it’s hard to communicate what’s actually being seen,” says Dr. Eric Smith, the Canadian lead on the study, holder of the Katthy Taylor Chair in Vascular Dementia and neurologist in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences and the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI).

For instance, Smith says there are currently over 100 various terms that can be used to describe small strokes in the brain. This makes it difficult for researchers to search previous literature and to pool data from studies to identify risk factors. It could also cause confusion in the clinical interpretations of scans.

Two international conferences lay groundwork

The study is the culmination of two conferences in 2012, where 30 internationally recognized researchers, including HBI member Richard Frayne, PhD, developed standard terminology to define the manifestations of vascular disease on MRI. The standards offer advice on MRI protocol for the disease such as how to describe and measure lesions as well as how to report them in scientific journals.

By introducing these standards, researchers hope that the radiologists who interpret the scans can universally communicate their findings with the hopes of leading to more accurate diagnoses and potentially more efficient clinical care.

Result: Agreement on terminology

“By facilitating the adoption of standardized terminology, we can compare findings across studies more reliably,” he says. “We’re hoping to bring the field together in a consensus as to how to describe and define lesions.”

The study co-leads were, Dr. Joanna Wardlaw (Edinburgh, Scotland), Dr. Eric Smith and Dr. Martin Dichgans (Munich, Germany).


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