New tool could help in Alzheimer's Disease diagnosis

Friday, June 01, 2012

Beta-almyloid plaque is a marker for Alzheimer's Disease and for a number of years, the only way to find it was through a brain biopsy or an autopsy. Now a new test has been approved to help doctors diagnose the disease.

It's been an emotional day for 73-year-old Hilda McIntosh. Her son- a psychiatrist- started noticing mental changes in his mom about a year ago and wanted to have her checked for Alzheimer's Disease.

"Her memory isn't quite the same, she is repeating stories and becoming more forgetful," said Hilda's son.

Along with other exams, she also got a PET scan with a recently FDA-approved radioactive dye called Amyvid.

Dr. Rajan Agarwal of Abington PET/CT of Willow Grove says the dye travels through the bloodstream to the brain. If there are amyloid plaques, the dye will bind to them.

"This is the first scan of all the scans out there that actually looks for Beta-almyloid deposits in the brain," said Dr. Agarwal.

Simply because amyloid plaques are detected, doesn't necessarily mean the patient has Alzheimer's. This is just one piece of the puzzle but it does give doctors more confidence in diagnosing the disease.

"This would just help us determine if their cognitive impairment could be related to amyloid deposits in the brain, which might be related to Alzheimer's," said Dr. Agarwal.

Dr. Agarwal says if other tests also point to Alzheimer's, then medication can be started early to slow its progression.

The scans can also help advance research to find better treatments. This is something Hilda would like to see for the millions of people and their families affected with the disease.

"It's so painful. I would like to be a part of helping in any small way to find answers and bring this to some better level than it is today," she said.

There was other good news for Hilda - her scans were negative which means it's highly unlikely she has Alzheimer's Disease.

Regarding the new testing, the dye was just approved in April and it could start being used at more centers soon.

It's important to note that it is not a screening tool. It won't predict Alzheimer's but it can help lead to a more accurate diagnosis.

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alzheimer's disease, healthcheck, ali gorman, r.n.
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