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Simple scan may help spot Alzheimer's early

June 12, 2012 - London

Scientists have shed light on a simple test that could diagnose Alzheimer's disease years before its devastating and debilitating symptoms appear.

Experts have agreed that the key to battle this degenerative disorder lies in its early detection, when treatment is more effective at holding off the ravages of the killer brain disease.

With advancements made in molecular imaging, a scan can now detect accumulations of a toxic protein, a trademark of the disease.

The harmful protein in the brain called 'beta amyloid' can build up for more than a decade before manifesting into any outward signs of dementia such as confusion or memory loss, the Daily Express reported.

"Diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease can now be made when the patient first presents symptoms and still has largely preserved mental function," Professor Christopher Rowe, lead researcher for the Australian Imaging, Biomarkers and Lifestyle Flagship Study of Ageing, said.

"Previously there was an average delay of three years between consulting a doctor over memory concerns and the diagnosis of Alzheimer's, as diagnosis required the presence of dementia. When used as an adjunct to other diagnostic measures, molecular imaging can help lead to earlier diagnosis.

"This may give the patient several years to prepare for dementia while they still have control over their destiny. Molecular imaging is proving to be an essential part of Alzheimer's disease detection," Rowe said.

"This and other amyloid imaging techniques will have an increasing role in the earlier and more accurate diagnosis of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease due to their ability to measure the actual underlying disease process," he said.

In a series of studies conducted, 45 people who showed high levels of an imaging agent, which binds to 'amyloid', plus loss of brain tissue, had an 80 per cent chance of developing Alzheimer's within two years.

"The effect of beta amyloid in healthy ageing is of great interest," Dr Michael Devous, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, said.

"This protein is strongly associated with Alzheimer's disease and may be predictive of the transition from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer's disease."

"Brain scanning techniques are not yet suitable for use in most clinics to diagnose Alzheimer's, but they are emerging as an important tool for research, which is why Alzheimer's Research UK is funding similar work to advance imaging techniques like these," Dr Simon Ridley, from Alzheimer's Research UK, said.

"The ability to detect Alzheimer's early is crucial for research, allowing new treatments to be trialled at the right time, as early as possible, when they are more likely to have a beneficial effect," Ridley said.

"Improved diagnosis would also allow people with the disease to access existing treatments and support earlier, making a real difference to people's lives.

"With 820,000 people in the UK affected by dementia and a rapidly ageing population, the need for research to tackle the condition has never been more urgent," he added.

There is no cure so far.


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