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Christos Davaktzikos (left) and Li Shen (right) are leading the project at Penn.

Researchers at Penn Medicine — in collaboration with 11 other research centers — received a $17.8 million grant to study how artificial intelligence can be used for early detection of Alzheimer's disease.

The grant from the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health will fund the project for its five-year duration, Penn Medicine News reported. Professor of radiology and director of the Center for Biomedical Image Computing and Analytics Christos Davaktzikos and professor of informatics Li Shen will lead the project at Penn. 

Davaktzikos and Shen will work alongside three co-principal researchers at Indiana University, the University of Southern California, and the University of Pittsburgh, Penn Medicine News reported.

The team will study how AI can aid in the premature detection of biomarkers linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Using data from more than 60,000 Alzheimer’s patients, the project is one of the largest of its kind, Penn Medicine News reported.

The diversity among Alzheimer's patients has been a barrier to effective treatment in the past, Penn Medicine News reported. With the large data set in this project, researchers hope to understand the variations in how Alzheimer's develops and what combinations of genes lead to Alzheimer's.

To look at the massive amount of data, the team will use machine learning and AI, along with an investigatory team, to develop a model of cognitive decline and a trajectory of Alzheimer’s disease progression. The team will use AI for this study because of the large amount of data AI can consolidate, Penn Medicine News reported.

The project will be split up into several objectives over the five years, Penn Medicine News reported. In the first stage, researchers will look to understand the relationship between genes, imaging, and clinical symptoms which will help to better understand the various classifications of Alzheimer’s Disease and their respective origins.

In 2019, Penn researcher Virginia M. Y. Lee won the $3 million Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for her work on how misfolded proteins can lead to the progression of several diseases, including Alzheimer's.