Alzheimers Scan

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Thursday, January 20, 2011 - 4:14pm

FDA looking at brain scan that can detect Alzheimer's before symptoms appear.

Diagnosing Alzheimer's, much like symptoms of the disease, can be confusing.

Right now doctors don't have any way of making a definitive diagnosis until after a patient has died.

"We really struggle with an effective way of diagnosing it, particularly in the early stages," says Wake Forest University's Dr. David W. Lacey.

Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease and other forms of dementia are similar, but the treatment options are very different.

Researchers are hoping to clear the confusion by studying a brain plaque called beta amyloid.

"This beta amyloid can distinguish those with Alzheimer's from those with other kinds of dementias," explains Dr. Neil Buckholtz.

A new imaging test uses a special dye called florbetapir that highlights beta amyloid in the brains of adults while they're still alive.

"What this provides is a way in living individuals to determine that there is beta amyloid in their brains and this would increase the diagnostic accuracy," says Buckholtz.

In a recent study the scans were found to match autopsy results 96 percent of the time.

While promising, experts say it is not a screening tool for the general population.

Experts also say this test is not the breakthrough they've been waiting for, but they're hopeful it can help clear a path through the Alzheimer's fog.

There are still hurdles to overcome with the brain test, like making sure all scans are interpreted using the same standards.

Until researchers learn more about the role of beta amyloid in Alzheimer's disease the brain scan might be used for research only.

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