Artificial intelligence can determine brain's age by examining MRI scans

If you want to know how old the tree was, you have to count the rings on its stomp. That, of course, requires you to cut down the tree or at least core it – drill a deep hole into it. But how can you know the age of the brain? And how can it be different from the age of the person? Scientists from the University of Iceland employed artificial intelligence to figure it out.

Brains age at different rates due to genetic and environmental factors. Image credit: Quince Media via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

As people age, grey matter in their brain reduces significantly. Scientists believe that grey matter is where thoughts are formulated. And so the older people get, the worse they perform on cognitive and memory tests. Some environmental and some genetic factors contribute to the aging of the brain, which means that the actual biological age of the brain does not necessarily match the age of the person. But how can you figure it out?

Scientists designed an AI algorithm for that and proved that it is possible to use artificial intelligence techniques to estimate the age of the brain using magnetic resonance imaging of the brain. AI looks for those patterns of reduced volume of grey matter, because they are clear signs of aging. And the results can be pretty spectacular – brain’s age can be 35 years, while the person is just 30 years old. Although studies have shown that environmental factors are very important, scientists say that genes are even more significant in the aging brain.

Particularly, some genes are linked to poor cognitive performance, which can now be associated with the brain age. Scientists found that certain genetic variations and brain disorders such as schizophrenia are linked to high brain age. And artificial intelligence was an essential tool of this research, helping scientists see how brains age and how this process is different from the aging body.

Magnús Örn, lead author of the study, said: “Up to this point, research into brain age has generally focused on the impact of environmental factors, but the idea behind this research was to look in particular at the impact of genetics on brain age. The findings confirm for the first time the link between genetic variations called MAPT and KCNK2 and brain age.”

This shouldn’t be that surprising to you. For a long time it’s been known that biological age does not match the age of the person. It is because aging is affected by many different processes that do not follow a predetermined calendar. You can age slower than the numbers in your passport suggest, but you need a pretty healthy lifestyle and good genes for that.


Source: University of Iceland