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It is well known that hippocampal atrophy is a marker of the onset of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and as a result hippocampal volumetry has been used in a number of studies to provide early diagnosis of AD and predict conversion of mild cognitive impairment patients to AD. However, rates of atrophy are not uniform across the hippocampus making shape analysis a potentially more accurate biomarker. This study studies the hippocampi from 226 healthy controls, 148 AD patients and 330 MCI patients obtained from T1 weighted structural MRI images from the ADNI database. The hippocampi are anatomically segmented using the MAPS multi-atlas segmentation method, and the resulting binary images are then processed with SPHARM software to decompose their shapes as a weighted sum of spherical harmonic basis functions. The resulting parameterizations are then used as feature vectors in Support Vector Machine (SVM) classification. A wrapper based feature selection method was used as this considers the utility of features in discriminating classes in combination, fully exploiting the multivariate nature of the data and optimizing the selected set of features for the type of classifier that is used. The leave-one-out cross validated accuracy obtained on training data is 88.6% for classifying AD vs controls and 74% for classifying MCI-converters vs MCI-stable with very compact feature sets, showing that this is a highly promising method. There is currently a considerable fall in accuracy on unseen data indicating that the feature selection is sensitive to the data used, however feature ensemble methods may overcome this. © 2012 SPIE.

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