Published on: November 13, 2011
by The Daily News & Dementia Today:
A revolutionary brain- scanning technique that can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease with almost perfect accuracy was unveiled last week. The breakthrough gives new hope for catching the illness in its earliest stages, even before symptoms fully develop – and also means there will be less chance of misdiagnosis, so those with other forms of dementia can be given the correct treatment. The test has entered final clinical trial stages.
Should results continue to prove successful, it could be rolled out by the end of 2012. Pioneering: The new brain scan will show the early signs of Alzheimer’s and gives off a red glow. Until now, the only way to diagnose Alzheimer’s (AD) was by ruling out other conditions such as cancer, depression or even a vitamin deficiency. Definitive confirmation came after death when brain samples containing high levels of beta amyloid plaques, the growths that characterise AD, are found.
But now a new compound called Flutemetamol, which highlights areas of the brain that are affected by the disease when scanned, is showing promising results in clinical studies.
The compound is injected into the arm and the patient exhibiting symptoms of AD undergoes a positron emission tomography (PET)
scan. If beta amyloid plaques are present in the brain, Flutemetamol makes them glow red, which confirms the patient has AD.
The second phase of the Flutemetamol study was completed earlier this year. In the trial, 65 patients suffering with AD and other degenerative mental-health conditions with less than a year to live were given Flutemetamol to see what PET scans revealed.
Any mistakes during the scan were because low levels of beta amyloid plaques do not necessarily mean a patient has developed full-blown AD. However, many experts believe that having a positive amyloid scan may indicate risk of developing AD in the future.
Dr Francois Nicolas, director of neurology for PET Medical Diagnostics, at GE Healthcare, the company that is developing Flutemetamol, says: ‘What makes the results so revolutionary is that it makes both a correct and an earlier diagnosis possible for the first time. This could significantly increase the quality and even the length of a patient’s life. Equally, those whose scan shows no signs of AD can be given the appropriate treatment they need too.’
AD affects about 342,000 Britons but the symptoms – forgetfulness, sudden mood changes, confusion and speech problems,
among others – are vague and difficult to measure or attribute to a specific condition.
Dementia is most common in adults over the age of 65 although why it develops is not entirely understood, though age, family
history, serious head injuries and even excessive exposure to aluminium have been linked to AD. Professor Leslie Findley, consultant neuroscientist at the Essex Neuroscience Unit, is heartened by the results but still believes a lot more research needs to be done into how dementia presents itself.
He says: ‘The study is very positive but we don’t know the full picture yet. To be able to detect AD as a very early diagnosis really would be ground-breaking.’
Research has demonstrated that, when it comes to medical concerns, the fear of developing Alzheimer’s (and other forms of dementia) exceeds the fear of every other type of health condition.
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