Ex­perts say new scan shows prom­ise in spot­ting Alzheimer’s

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION -

A small com­pany with a new brain scan for de­tect­ing plaque, the hall­mark phys­i­cal sign of Alzheimer’s dis­ease, pre­sented its re­sults Sun­day at an in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence in Hawaii, and ex­perts who at­tended said the data con­vinced them that the method works.

Un­til now, the only de­fin­i­tive way to di­ag­nose Alzheimer’s has been to search for plaque with a brain au­topsy af­ter the pa­tient dies. Sci­en­tists hope the new scan­ning tech­nique will al­low doc­tors to see plaque while the pa­tient is still alive, im­prov­ing di­ag­no­sis and aid­ing re­search on drugs to slow or stop plaque ac­cu­mu­la­tion.

Neu­rol­o­gists have known about plaques ever since Alzheimer’s dis­ease was first de­scribed in 1906. They are microscopic bumps made up of a pro­tein, amy­loid beta, ap­pear­ing on the sur­face of the brain in ar­eas in­volved with learn­ing and me­mory. They are so char­ac­ter­is­tic of Alzheimer’s that they are re­quired for a de­fin­i­tive di­ag­no­sis of the dis­ease.

Of course, doc­tors do not wait for a brain au­topsy to di­ag­nose Alzheimer’s. They use me­mory tests and eval­u­a­tions of pa­tients’ rea­son­ing and abil­ity to care for them­selves. Yet with au­topsy, even doc­tors at lead­ing med­i­cal cen­ters have been wrong as of­ten as 20 per- cent of the time: Peo­ple they said had Alzheimer’s did not have plaque.

The scans were de­vel­oped by a Philadel­phia com­pany, Avid Ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, and, in­de­pen­dently, by Bayer and Gen­eral Elec­tric. They use a ra­dioac­tive dye that at­taches to plaque in the brain, al­low­ing it to be seen with a PET scan.

Al­though the scans looked promis­ing, the com­pa­nies needed to show that what they re­vealed was the same as what a pathol­o­gist would see in an au­topsy.

That was what Avid demon­strated with its study, pre­sented Sun­day by its med­i­cal di­rec­tor, Dr. Christo­pher Clark.

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