New imaging technique identifies people-at-risk for Alzheimer's disease

UCLA researchers used innovative brain scan technology to show that the abnormal brain protein deposits that define Alzheimers disease can be detected in mild cognitive impairment a condition that increases the risk for developing Alzheimers disease and affects 15 to 20 million Americans. The study will be published in the Dec. 21 New England Journal of Medicine.

Scientists are in the early stages of identifying biomarkers in the blood and spinal fluid to help with Alzheimers diagnosis, but this new study is the first to report a real time "window into the brain" that identifies both of the major abnormal deposits of the disease in living people who may not develop Alzheimers for years to come. The researchers used positron emission tomography (PET) imaging with a small molecule invented at UCLA that binds to the abnormal proteins amyloid plaques and tangles that may cause the disease. Previously only an autopsy could determine these deposits and confirm a definitive diagnosis.

Study results found that the new method was able to track disease progression over a two-year period and was more effective in differentiating patients with Alzheimers disease and mild cognitive impairment from normal study subjects when compared to conventional imaging techniques. Researchers are working with Siemens Medical to begin a clinical trial using this new molecular marker in order to obtain Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval so that it will be available in the future for use by physicians with their patients.

"The study suggests that we may now have a new diagnostic tool for detecting pre-Alzheimers conditions to help us identify those at risk, perhaps years before symptoms become obvious," said Dr. Gary Small, Parlow-Solomon Professor on Aging, lead study author and a professor with the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. "This imaging technology may also allow us to test novel drug therapies and manage dis

Contact: Rachel Champeau
University of California - Los Angeles

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