New PET method may enable early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s

A study presented at this week’s meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in San Diego describes a new brain imaging technique which could help doctors provide an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Diesease (AD).

The method is based on positron emission tomography (PET) and uses a compound called 18-FDDNP. The molecule is a radioactively labelled fluorescent probe which, when injected into patients, binds to the amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that are the pathological hallmarks of AD.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, carried out a study in which the method was used on 60 patients: 20 with AD, 20 with mild cognitive impairment and 20 controls. Those patients with AD had the greatest buildup of FDDNP in their brains, followed by those with mild cognitive impairment.  

FDDNP-PET imaging can therefore distinguish between patients with AD and those with mild cognitive impairment.

Furthermore, levels of FDDNP binding in the brain are apparently correlated with the progression of the disease –  the brains of patients with advanced AD bind more of the molecules than those with less developed pathology.

Diagnosis of AD can be difficult as there are other factors which can produce similar symptoms. FDDNP-PET imaging could help physicians in diagnosing AD, and could also be used in the development of new drugs for treating the disease.

The new method has already been licensed to Siemens, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of medical technology.