Science and Technology

Cutting-edge technology reveals the age of your brain


Is your brain older than you? This fascinating question is being tackled by Monash University researchers who are using cutting-edge technology to study brain age.

Discovering the age of one’s brain may no longer be a mystery, thanks to innovative research conducted by Monash University’s PhD candidate Jo Wrigglesworth and Research Fellow Dr Gershon Spitz.

While Wrigglesworth has used neuroimaging data and machine learning to predict brain age and identify cognitive decline, Dr Spitz’s research has demonstrated that a single traumatic brain injury (TBI) can lead to an “older-appearing” brain, possibly leading to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

In a systematic review of research, Wrigglesworth applied the new 2017 method of predicting ageing based on neuroimaging data and machine learning to a group of healthy elderly Australians recruited from the ASPREE clinical trial.

The study provides insights into individual differences in ageing trajectories and underscores the potential of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology in explaining underlying neural mechanisms. MRI offers detailed structural and functional information about the brain that can be leveraged for predictive modelling. 

With its non-invasive nature and ability to capture fine-grained neural changes, MRI enables researchers to investigate age-related alterations in brain morphology and connectivity. It lays the groundwork for personalised interventions and treatments aimed at promoting healthy ageing.

She found that their brains looked younger than the norm, a phenomenon she defines as “decelerated brain ageing.” However, Wrigglesworth points out that the algorithm could just as easily have shown the opposite result. Brain age is, nonetheless, an effective approach to capturing unique phenotypes in a diverse population.

“There are other complexities where people do have atrophy, but they’re still functionally fine, which is where the element of then understanding those people can be really important,” Wrigglesworth said. She also discovered that accelerated brain ageing is associated with poor cognitive function and that older males had a faster rate of brain ageing over a three-year period.

Dr Spitz, who specialises in TBI and brain age at the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, discovered that a massive hit to the brain can lead to processes that interact with how one age with the environment they are in throughout their whole life, resulting in neurodegenerative diseases.

He noted that a single TBI can result in an “older-appearing” brain decades following the initial injury. In a study conducted on individuals with a single moderate or severe TBI, he found that their brain age looked older than it should have.

Dr Spitz and his team took these findings further and found that the deviation between chronological age and brain age was associated with cognitive decline, specifically verbal memory.

“That’s what I will suggest we would find. Do those individuals who are deemed to be high-risk actually show this change over time?” Dr Spitz asks.

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Ritchelle is a Content Producer for Healthcare Channel, Australia’s premier resource of information for healthcare.


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