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UCLA researchers invent first technique to image Alzheimer's onset

Findings will speed diagnosis, intervention and new therapies

UCLA scientists have created the first technique to image the earliest evidence of Alzheimers disease in the living brain before the disorder begins attacking brain cells. Reported in the January issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, the technique will allow doctors to monitor the disease as it unfolds speeding diagnosis, intervention and new therapies for the disorder that afflicts 10 percent of people older than 65.

UCLA researchers combined a new chemical marker called FDDNP with positron emission tomography (PET) to see for the first time the brain lesions indicative of Alzheimers disease in the living patient.

"We have developed the first tracer molecule that visually zeroes in on the brain lesions caused by Alzheimers disease," said principal investigator Dr. Jorge R. Barrio, UCLA professor of medical and molecular pharmacology.

"This non-invasive method will help us monitor new vaccines and drugs designed to prevent and treat the brain damage caused by Alzheimers disease," said co-author Dr. Gary Small, Parlow-Solomon Professor of Aging and UCLA professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences.

Physicians regard these brain lesions, called amyloid plaques and tangles, as the definitive hallmarks of Alzheimers disease. Experts suspect that the lesions growth disrupts cell function and kills off brain cells, leading to disorientation and progressive memory loss.

Barrio and Small discovered that PET scans of patients injected with FDDNP showed the presence of early brain lesions before the plaques are believed to destroy brain cells. If experts hypotheses about the lesions role prove accurate, UCLAs technique could identify when medical intervention may still stave off or prevent the onset of disease.

Using PET, the UCLA team detected high concentrations of FDDNP in the memory centers of nine Alzhe
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Contact: Elaine Schmidt
elaines@support.ucla.edu
310-794-2272
University of California - Los Angeles
9-Jan-2002


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