Alzheimer’s disease could be detected years in advance with the help of a new imaging tool, scientists have claimed. The key to the findings is amyloid plaques, which denote the condition. At present, scans only show when these appear in clumps, but more sporadic and diffuse occurrences of the plaques could provide early notice that the disease will take hold.
The problem is that these are really hard to detect, but researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine think they may have found a solution. They have developed a new chemical compound that attaches to even the smallest clumps of plaques, allowing them to show up in PET scans.
Experts are hopeful that this ground-breaking step forward could mean patients are diagnosed before brain damage sets in. This could lead to sufferers having a greater say in how their own care will be managed in the future.
Dr Vijay Sharma, professor of radiology and lead researcher, said that Fluselenamyl, which is the name of the chemical compound, is much better than anything that has gone before. He insists it can’t be beaten for detecting human amyloid beta proteins.
He said: “Fluselenamyl is both more sensitive and likely more specific than current agents. Using this compound, I think we can reduce false negatives, potentially do a better job of identifying people in the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease and assess the effects of treatments.”
The research results showed that Fluselenamyl was ten times more effective at binding to human amyloid beta proteins than all three of the imaging agents that have previously been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
While diffuse plaques can be found in the brains of elderly people without Alzheimer’s disease, it is worth looking for these in younger patients. If they become compact amyloid plaques in the future, it is likely that the condition will develop and it is the destruction of brain cells surrounding them that are thought to cause memory loss.
Scientists used Fluselenamyl to stain slices of brains from people who had died from the disease, as well as those whose deaths were unrelated to Alzheimer’s. This helped to show the difference in plaques occurring as a result of the condition.
Dr Sharma summarised: “One day, we may be able to use Fluselenamyl as part of a screening test to identify segments of the population that are going to be at risk for development of Alzheimer's disease. That's the long-term goal.”
Barchester Healthcare looks after elderly people with and without Alzheimer’s, ensuring their specific needs are catered to.