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PET Scan Is Part of Best Alzheimer’s Test

July 6, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging, Neuroradiology
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A combination of a PET brain scan and a memory test does the best job of predicting which patients with mild cognitive problems will develop Alzheimer’s disease, according to a newly published study. However, the expense of PET may mean that the finding is most useful in selecting patients for clinical trials of potential Alzheimer’s drugs.

The research was part of a larger study called the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. The results have been published in the journal Neurology.

The researchers identified 85 people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is defined by the Alzheimer’s Association as “a condition in which a person has problems with memory, language or another mental function severe enough to be noticeable to other people and to show up on tests, but not serious enough to interfere with daily life.” It’s often, but not always, an Alzheimer’s precursor.

Each patient received an episodic memory test (involving recall of word lists), a blood test for a specific form of the APOE gene that is associated with Alzheimer’s, an MRI brain scan to measure the size of the hippocampus, a measurement of tau or beta-amyloid proteins (thought to play a role in Alzheimer’s), and a PET brain scan.

“Each of these tests have independently shown promise in predicting disease progression,” said study author Susan M. Landau, PhD. “However, prior to the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, they had never been compared to one another in the same study before.”

Dr. Landau, of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California, Berkeley, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, was quoted in a press release from the academy, which publishes Neurology.

After the tests, participants were followed an average of 1.9 years. During that time, 28 of them developed Alzheimer’s. Those who showed abnormal results on both the PET scans and the episodic memory tests were nearly 12 times more likely to develop the disease than those who scored normally on both measures.

Dr. Landau acknowledged the PET cost issue, but told HealthDay News: “However, we think where it might be feasible to use imaging is in the process of selecting participants for clinical trials for potential Alzheimer’s drugs. Because we want to identify the right people who can ideally benefit from these drugs.”

She added: “Outside of that, people have imaging done, even though it’s expensive, for lots of medical conditions. So if it’s useful enough, it could be promising nevertheless.”

Related seminar: Neuroradiology Review

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