University of Queensland researchers are fast tracking the commercial development of Cogni-screen, a simple, sensitive and inexpensive screening test for Alzheimer’s disease.

The computer-based system will undergo a major trial this year, with researchers able to create a commercially ready test thanks to a grant from the Telstra Broadband Fund.

According to co-developer, UQ Key Centre for Human Factors and Applied Cognitive Psychology Director, Professor Michael Humphreys, the Telstra grant will allow his team to go beyond its initial plans.

“We are fast tracking Cogni-screen to incorporate voice recognition technology; expand our GP clinic trials; and screen for depression,” Professor Humphreys said.

With Queensland GPs already expressing interest in the program, Professor Humphreys is confident Cogni-screen will become an important tool for the early detection of Alzheimer’s Disease.

“Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is vital, particularly as the new drugs coming onto the market seem to delay the disease if used in the early stages. But GPs recognise that they don’t have the tools to detect the early stages of the disease and they have reservations about existing tests,” he said.

“Whereas Cogni-screen is one of the few neuropsychological tests based on sound memory theory – it is an application of memory research that I’ve done over 40 years – and with it GPs will be able to detect the early stages of the rapid cognitive decline which characterises Alzheimer’s.”

Cogni-screen should be commercially available by 2006 according to David Henderson, CEO of UniQuest, UQ’s main commercialisation company.

“UniQuest is planning the commercialisation of Cogni-screen to begin next year,” Mr Henderson said.

“We expect the system to be welcomed by the medical community as currently Alzheimer’s Disease is an expensive and time consuming disease to diagnose.”

The system allows patients to reply verbally to the questions and images presented by the computer. Their results are compared not only to their last performance (if available), but also to their peers of the same age, education, and gender.

It is estimated that six per cent of Australians aged 65 years and over (about 140,000 people) suffer from dementia; this figure is projected to nearly triple by the year 2051.