Inexpensive, non-invasive biomarkers predict Alzheimer transition using machine learning analysis of the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging (ADNI) database

for the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging (ADNI) database is an expansive undertaking by government, academia, and industry to pool resources and data on subjects at various stage of symptomatic severity due to Alzheimer’s disease. As expected, magnetic resonance imaging is a major component of the project. Full brain images are obtained at every 6-month visit. A range of cognitive tests studying executive function and memory are employed less frequently. Two blood draws (baseline, 6 months) provide samples to measure concentrations of approximately 145 plasma biomarkers. In addition, other diagnostic measurements are performed including PET imaging, cerebral spinal fluid measurements of amyloid-beta and tau peptides, as well as genetic tests, demographics, and vital signs. ADNI data is available upon review of an application. There have been numerous reports of how various processes evolve during AD progression, including alterations in metabolic and neuroendocrine activity, cell survival, and cognitive behavior. Lacking an analytic model at the onset, we leveraged recent advances in machine learning, which allow us to deal with large, non-linear systems with many variables. Of particular note was examining how well binary predictions of future disease states could be learned from simple, non-invasive measurements like those dependent on blood samples. Such measurements make relatively little demands on the time and effort of medical staff or patient. We report findings with recall/precision/area under the receiver operator curve after application of CART, Random Forest, Gradient Boosting, and Support Vector Machines, Our results show (i) Random Forests and Gradient Boosting work very well with such data, (ii) Prediction quality when applied to relatively easily obtained measurements (Cognitive scores, Genetic Risk and plasma biomarkers) achieve results that are competitive with magnetic resonance techniques. This is by no means an exhaustive study, but instead an exploration of the plausibility of defining a series of relatively inexpensive, broad population based tests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0235663
JournalPloS one
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2020


  • Alzheimer Disease/diagnosis
  • Apolipoprotein A-V/blood
  • Area Under Curve
  • Biomarkers/blood
  • Brain/diagnostic imaging
  • Databases, Factual
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Machine Learning
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neuroimaging/methods
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • ROC Curve


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