LONDON, ONT. -- It’s a staggering number, 25,000 Canadians are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease each year, a disease for which there is currently no cure.

“We want to be able to detect the disease as early as possible so we can test new drugs and make sure we can effect changes in the brain before there is major damage.” says Dr. Robert Bartha, a scientist at the Robarts Research Institute.

It’s a goal that Bartha and his research team have been working on for about 10 years, but with the use of new MRI technology and new ideas, Bartha says they have made some promising discoveries.

“We targeted two regions of the brain that we know are effected by Alzheimer’s diseases, one is the hippocampus and the other the posterior cingulate.”

Researchers focused on changes in both brain metabolism and brain structure as part of the study.

There were approximately 30 participants recruited for the study - 10 that showed no signs of cognitive impairment, another 10 who had mild cognitive impairment and the final 10 who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

When it came to brain metabolism the team noticed changes in a major neurotransmitter that sends messages back and forth in the brain called glutamate

“The major finding we had here was glutamate levels were reduced, massively reduced, in the hippocampus both in people with Alzheimer’s disease and those with mild cognitive impairment,” says Bartha.

They also saw changes in brain structure in those with Alzheimer’s.

These discoveries can now be used in the next phase of the study which will look at more people and if there are treatments that can make a difference in patients earlier on.

“If we can detect Alzheimer’s disease earlier on the treatments we have may not cure it but maybe slow the progression enough to improve the quality of life,” says MD/PhD candidate Dickson Wong.

The study was published online in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and was supported by Western’s BrainsCAN and the Alzheimer Foundation of London and Middlesex.