FDA approves use of dye to improve diagnostic scans for Alzheimer’s
One of the most frustrating medical realities of Alzheimer’s disease is that a definitive diagnosis can only be made after death. Even though science has progressed to a point where many doctors feel quite sure of their diagnosis, there is still a fair chance that the diagnosis is wrong. A recent article in the Detroit Free Press about the findings of Peter Lichtenberg, Ph.D., head of Wayne State University's Institute of Gerontology, states that a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is too freely given by the medical profession. Many cases of supposed Alzheimer’s disease studied turned out to be infections, drug interactions or another type of dementia.
Now a fluorescent dye that binds to amyloid plaques typical of Alzheimer’s disease, will soon be used as a diagnostic tool. The enhanced scans can serve as a method for estimating plaque content in the brains of people exhibiting cognitive decline.
Scientists still can’t be certain whether or not amyloid plaques are the cause of Alzheimer's, but these plaques are strongly correlated with symptoms of dementia in many cases. To further investigate the amyloid connection, a clinical trial is currently underway featuring a family in Columbia that is genetically predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease. In this large extended family everyone develops amyloid plaques, and Alzheimer’s disease, before they reach the age of 50. Many scientists feel that the trial, no matter the results, could lead to a much better understanding of how Alzheimer’s disease develops.
Researchers continue to look for answers
The big news in 2010 was about a spinal fluid test that could indicate with 100 percent accuracy if a person was developing Alzheimer’s disease. Prior to that, a blood test that can detect Alzheimer’s six years in advance of symptoms was the news of the day. The problem with tests that can detect Alzheimer’s disease far in advance of symptoms is their impracticality for use in the general population. The cost, for one thing, would likely be prohibitive. Also, the ethical implications of testing people who don’t hold an unusually high risk of developing the disease is open to question. Still, these tests move research for Alzheimer's detection and prevention forward.
The dye-enhanced PET scan will add one more tool for neurologists to use during the process of diagnosis. With the use of these enhanced PET scans fewer diagnostic errors should be made. A correct diagnosis would allow people to be properly treated for the disease that is causing their symptoms, whether that is Alzheimer’s disease or another issue. Each new tool is a welcome advance in the furious fight to end this disease that is devastating families and has the potential of devastating the economies of the world.
Young, S. (2012, May 23) Brain Scan for Alzheimer's: A recently approved plaque-tracking dye can improve doctors' ability to identify Alzheimer's. Technology Review. Retrieved from http://www.technologyreview.com/biomedicine/40445/#.T7z0pYvbYzI.twitter?utm_source=May+25%2C+2012&utm_campaign=Constant+Contact&utm_medium=email