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A new technique detects earliest signs of Alzheimer's in healthy people

Brain researchers would dearly love to reliably identify changes in brain structure and metabolism associated with early Alzheimer's disease -- before symptoms emerge.

Such information would buy precious time and perhaps permit potential therapies to delay or even prevent the memory-robbing disease. Now, a new study by NYU School of Medicine researchers brings this goal one step closer to being realized.

Using a new technique to measure the volume of the brain, they were able to identify healthy individuals who would later develop memory impairment, a symptom associated with a high risk for future Alzheimer's disease. The study is published in the December issue of the journal Radiology.

In the small study, led by Henry Rusinek, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Radiology at NYU School of Medicine, the researchers used MRI scans and a computational formula to measure a region of the brain called the medial-temporal lobe over a period of two years. This area contains the hippocampus and the entorhinal cortex, key structures allied with learning and memory. The researchers found that each year, this region of the brain shrank considerably more in people who developed memory problems compared with people who didn't. The medial-temporal lobe holds about 30 cubic centimeters -- the equivalent of one-sixth of a cup -- of brain matter in each hemisphere of the brain.

"With our findings, we now know that the normal healthy brain undergoes a predictable shrinkage that can be used to help recognize Alzheimer's several years before clinical symptoms emerge," says Dr. Rusinek. "We believe this is the first MRI study to report these findings in healthy people, but it is only the first demonstration that extremely early diagnosis is possible, and the technique still requires additional work before it is ready for the clinic," he adds.

The technique was about 90 percent accurate, meaning that it correctly predicted cognitive decline in
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Contact: Pamela McDonnell
Pamela.McDonnell@med.nyu.edu
212-404-3555
New York University Medical Center and School of Medicine
25-Nov-2003


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