Alzheimer's May Be Predicted by Brain Plaques


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According to a new study conducted by Duke Medicine, brain scans using radioactive dye may help to predict an impending development of Alzheimer's disease, as well as future cognitive decline in otherwise healthy adults.

In an article published in the online journal Molecular Psychiatry, researchers revealed that identification of residue that forms in the brain called silent beta-amyloid plaque could help direct treatment options for patients at risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Lead author P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.D., professor of psychiatry and director of the neurocognitive disorders program at Duke commented, “Our research found that healthy adults and those with mild memory loss who have a positive scan for these plaques have a much faster rate of decline on memory, language, and reasoning over three years."

Information describing how PET scans are conducted:

Alzheimer's disease is typically diagnosed based on the patient's history, history from relatives and an assessment of the patient's behaviors. The affliction is the most common form of dementia, and is predicted to affect 1 in 85 people worldwide by 2050. There is no cure for the disease, and is progressive, eventually leading to death. While AD is mostly seen in patients over 65 years old, it can manifest in much younger patients. There presently is no cure, and is the most expensive disease in the United States.

The Duke study comprised 152 adults aged 50 or older, and was intended to discern if positron emission tomography (PET) scans could predict cognitive decline. Radioactive dye called florbetapir (Amyvid) was used during the PET scans, which binds to the beta-amyloid plaques that are indicative of Alzheimer’s. The dye allowed researchers to discern what regions of the brain plaques were forming. The PET scans were then rated as positive or negative.

Of the participants who had positive scans, 35 percent progressed to full-blown Alzheimer's, compared to 10 percent who had negative scans. Ninety percent of those with negative scans, who had displayed mild cognitive impairment at the beginning of the study did not progress to Alzheimer's. The study has revealed the value of PET imaging in identifying patients who aren't likely to see a progressive cognitive decline.

Doraiswamy commented, “Having a negative scan could reassure people that they are not likely to be at risk for progression in the near future."

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