Clara Could Finally Be The First Cure For Alzheimer’s Disease
Clara, short for clarity, is an artificial intelligence-based chat-bot that asks patients questions about themselves and their relationships to people, places and events. It is a computer based system, developed by Israeli scientists at the Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem.
Clara, still in its’ testing stages, works on an understanding that Alzheimer’s disease first affects the brain’s orientation system — before destroying memory.
What does ‘brain orientation system’ mean? According to Dr. Shahar Arzy, lead investigator on this project — orientation is defined as how the person relates to the world outside.
For example, a patient might remember both the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy and the election of Barack Obama but is confused about which came first. Or a patient might recognize his or her spouse and doctor, but not be able to distinguish which person is standing closer.
“It’s easy to test memory,” says Dr. Arzy. “I can give you three words and ask you to retrieve them.” That’s very different than processing specific relationships.
Clara: Are There Any Effective Alzheimer Drugs?
The painful answer to this question is none, zero. While a few drugs have passed the FDA’s rigid Stage 1 testing, fewer have passed the Stage 2 hurdle — and none survived Stage 3. Billions of research dollars have gone to waste. Hence, the shift by Israeli scientists to an orientation focus, which is tailored to the specific individual to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s. Their research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
For example, orientation can be measured with a functional MRI. Your brain will light up differently if you see a picture of your own daughter vs. someone else’s child or a generic image of a baby.
The teams’ research show a very strong correlation between self-orientation and brain mechanisms destroyed by Alzheimer’s. It is just about 1 to 1.
In the pre-clinical stages of Alzheimer’s, the orientation system begins to deteriorate, but the person can still compensate by resorting to past formed short and long term memories.
It’s only when both systems – orientation and memory – sink below a certain threshold that the disease is apparent. At that point, it’s too late to provide any effective treatment.
The key to Clara is that the questions it asks are taken from the patient’s own personal orientation system. These questions are not generic questions that draws on the brain’s memory system.
Originally, patient information was obtained from Facebook and social media. But, data breaches on Facebook and third-party sites using Facebook data put a stop to that.
Instead, the research team gets information directly from the patient. For this, the chat-bot was developed.
Patients were asked all sorts of questions pertaining to their past life experiences. All answers were recorded and coded. This information was correlated with physiological data such as MRI and Pet scans.
Clara: Current Status
Clara is now in the second year of a five-year test at Harvard. The test compares data generated by the system with data from Alzheimer’s markers taken via amyloid PET scan, MRI and other neuro-psychological tests.
Right now, the pilot Android and web versions support English, Hebrew, Chinese and Portuguese. French, Russian, Arabic and Japanese options are already under development.
Clara is not yet ready to make its public debut. Data collection evaluating the Clara chat bot to the two-system [orientation vs. memory] theory, is ongoing. The results, thus far are very promising.