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New Molecule Promises Early Detection of Alzheimer's: Study
Human embryonic stem cell bioprocessing

US researchers said they have identified people at risk for developing Alzheimer's disease using imaging technology and a new molecule that can bind to the abnormal proteins that are the hallmark of the devastating brain disease.

The University of California researchers said the new imaging technology offers a "real-time window into the brain," identifying both of the major markers for the illness in living people who may not develop Alzheimer's for years.

They hope the new diagnostic tool will speed the search for Alzheimer's drugs and ultimately allow for early diagnosis and treatment of people at risk for the condition, saving them from the worst ravages of the memory-sapping illness.

"The study suggests that we may now have a new diagnostic tool for detecting pre-Alzheimer's conditions to help us identify those at risk, perhaps years before symptoms become obvious," said Dr. Gary Small, director of the Center on Aging at University of California, Los Angeles and lead author of the study.

There is no test for Alzheimer's, a progressive brain condition that degrades a person's memory and cognitive function, and the most common form of dementia. It can only be definitively confirmed with an autopsy.

Doctors are obliged to piece together a diagnosis by means of a clinical history, cognitive testing and process of elimination, but the hunt is on for better tools and scientists are in the early stages of identifying biomarkers in the blood and spinal fluid that could help with that endeavour.

The previous discovery of a compound called Pittsburgh Compound B that binds to amyloid plaques, and which lights up during a PET scan, caused a great deal of excitement in Alzheimer circles, but the molecule invented by the Californian researchers goes a step further by binding to both of the abnormal proteins seen in Alzheimer's - plaques and tangles.

The UCLA team said a small trial of the new scanning method on 83 patients showed it could distinguish between healthy patients and those with Alzheimer's or cognitive impairment better than current brain scans which cannot "see" the proteins.

It also proved effective at tracking disease progression over time.

Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, the UCLA researchers reported how they tested the scan on 83 volunteers, 25 of whom had probable Alzheimer's, 28 with mild cognitive impairment and 30 who were normal controls.

The volunteers were injected with a radioactive version of the compound, and the results viewed using a PET, or positron emission tomography, scan.

The volunteers were also scanned using a standard PET scan and 72 patients were also given an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan.

The PET scan with the new molecule showed that the more advanced the disease the higher the concentration of the chemical marker in areas where the abnormal proteins typically accumulate.

The researchers did follow-up scans two years later on 12 patients whose mental function had deteriorated — either from normal cognitive function to mild impairment, or from mild impairment to Alzheimer's disease.

The images showed an increase of between five and 11 percent in the amount of the compound seen in the PET scans compared to the patients' previous brain scans.

"This scan could be to Alzheimer's what a cholesterol test is to heart disease and stroke - a red flag that gives doctors a chance to intervene early in the disease process," said Small.(AFP)






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