A new test that detects the presence of proteins in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer’s was approved this past Friday by the Food and Drug Administration. The test involves a brain scan and was developed by Eli Lilly.
The scan hopes to detect Alzheimer’s in patients during much early stages of the disease, allowing doctors to quickly treat the loss of memory while providing researchers with early stage results to aid in their fight to develop effective treatments against Alzheimer’s.
The new scan uses a chemical called florbetapir (Amyvid) which is a radioactive agent that tags clumps of a sticky substance call an amyloid. Since that substance is a main part of Alzheimer’s it can allow researchers to detect the disease and begin treatment immediately by using a brain imaging technique known as a positron emission tomography scan (PET scans).
When moderate to frequent amyloid plaques are discovered in the brain researchers say its suggestive of Alzheimer’s disease.
According to test developer Daniel Skovronsky in an interview with the Wall Street Journal:
“If the scan is negative, indicating no clumps or few clumps of amyloid, ‘that gives the clinician a clue that Alzheimer’s is less likely to be the cause of those symptoms.’”
If someone is developing Alzheimer’s disease but has not experienced any type of memory loss the test will provide a “negative” response because amyloid is only present when memory impairment is involved.
The test is a significant breakthrough in examining amyloid plaques. In the past the only way to discover if amyloid’s existed was to examine a human brain after death. It is not just Alzheimer’s patients who have the plaque, up to 20% of older people who were examined after death showed signs of plaque buildup on the brain.
Amyvid will be available in July but only in limited quantities as tests start a limited trial run.
Researchers believe that not only will they be able to find cures by better understanding the early stages of Alzheimer’s but they can now track the progression of Alzheimer’s in patients to determine the severity of their condition.
While a positive scan won’t produce a treatment program that cures the patients it could allow them to better plan for their future before memory impairment sets in.
In the meantime the FDA has raised concerns that the Alzheimer’s test can be hard for doctor’s to read, Lilly in turn worked with the agency to create a three-hour online and in-person training programs to help doctors accelerate the learning curve.