A team of US scientists say they have found a way to use brain scans to detect Alzheimer’s at early stages of its development, years before any symptoms of the condition are present.
A team of US scientists led by Dr William Jagust, a professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health announced a break through in both diagnosing Alzheimer’s Disease and predicting it in those who have no behavioral signs of the condition.
Until now,task-based tests have been used to determine the presence of Alzheimer’s. These task-based tests include the Mental Status Exam (MSE), Mini Mental Status Exam (MMSE), success in Activities of Daily Living (ADL) and reports of spouses and others about declining function and focus. Once alerted to a possible problem, the patient would be monitored over time with any deterioration documented.
No objective diagnosis has been possible before autopsy findings and there is no effective treatment generally accepted for this condition. The diagnosis is presumptive and is made when the function and focus are poor enough to conform to a generally accepted, but undocumented, causal picture.
But now, for the first time these researchers say it is possible to actually see the telltale physical signs of Alzheimer’s on a brain scan as the sticky amyloid plaques and tau protein tangles that are associated with the condition on autopsy. No one is sure what causes the plaques and tangles although aluminum has been implicated and carriers of the APOE gene varient are more susceptible to develop the condition.
The researchers are so confident of their findings that they belieive they can pinpoint the moment when Alzheimer’s first sets in allowing them to track the progression through the stages of the disease in a group of adults, some of whom had shown no symptoms at all.
They see the real promise of the technology as the ability to monitor the progress of people who carry the genetic marker that puts them at risk for the condition. Previously, although doctors were able to test forthe APOE marker they were unable to predict if – or when – Alzheimer’s symptoms might set in for any given individual with the genetic marker.
And for those of us who panic every time we misplace our keys, it could used as reassurance that we were only having a bad day, not something far worse.