Alzheimer's: Brain Scan May Help Early Detection

Jennifer Deutschmann

Alzheimer's disease is difficult to detect at an early stage. Most patients are diagnosed when they display profound physical and mental symptoms. Research suggests new imagining techniques may assist in early detection.

Autopsies of Alzheimer's patients reveal the presence of brain plaques and strands composed of built up proteins. The plaques build up and form clusters while the strands fill and disable nerve cells.

The tangled strands are composed of a protein called tau. The protein strands have been linked to memory loss and confusion. The imaging technique specifically targets the strands in hopes of early diagnosis.

As reported by CBS News, Dr. Makoto Higuchi with the National Institute of Radiological Sciences, Japan led the research. He and his team developed a compound that actually binds to the protein strands.

The compound highlights the tau proteins on positron emission tomography, or PET scans. The resulting images reveal the presence, and progressive spread, of the strands.

The technique was tested on mice and humans. The research showed a correlation between the progression of the disease and spread of the tau protein strands.

In addition to diagnosing Alzheimer's, the imaging technique could be useful in early diagnosis of other neurological disease. Tau strands are also present in patients with other forms of dementia and Parkinson's disease.

In 2012, the US government developed The National Alzheimer's Plan. The plan includes extensive research into early detection. President Obama also ordered a $100 million brain mapping project. The project is expected to assist in the understanding of neurological disease.

As reported by Forbes, the only definitive testing available to Alzheimer's patients is done after they are deceased. The diagnosis is usually made through observation of mental and physical impairment.

Alzheimer's is devastating for patients, their families, and their friends. The new imaging technique could assist in more effective treatments that vastly improve patient' quality of life.

[Image via Flickr]