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New Tests Identify Alzheimer’s Early Stages

| May 4, 2015 Comment

New Tests Identify Alzheimer’s Early Stages – The way doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s disease may be starting to change.

Traditionally clinicians have relied on tests of memory and reasoning skills and reports of social withdrawal to identify patients with Alzheimer’s. Such assessments can, in expert hands, be fairly conclusive—but they are not infallible. Around one in five people who are told they have the neurodegenerative disorder actually have other forms of dementia or, sometimes, another problem altogether, such as depression.

To know for certain that someone has Alzheimer’s, doctors must remove small pieces of the brain, examine the cells under a microscope and count the number of protein clumps called amyloid plaques. An unusually high number of plaques is a key indicator of Alzheimer’s. Because such a procedure risks further impairing a patient’s mental abilities, it is almost always performed posthumously.

In the past few years scientists have developed brain scans that can accurately estimate the amount of plaque in patients’ brain while they are still alive. For instance, researchers at Northwestern University, have come up with a noninvasive technique requires no surgery and could detect abnormalities years before symptoms develop. The technique combines MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) with an antibody that targets the toxic beta-amyloid that builds up in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s.


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