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Jun 20, 2005 | Researchers involved in three separate studies are reporting diagnostic approaches involving brain scans and a blood test may offer a way to identify individuals who are at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease years before the onset of actual symptoms.

This approach, announced Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Prevention of Dementia, in Washington, D.C., offers a possible two-fold breakthrough by permitting treatment to be commenced at a much earlier stage of the disease and by helping those determined to be at risk to take more complete advantage of preventive therapies which are, or may become, available in the future.

The three studies include one involving “positron emission tomography (PET) scans working in conjunction with a specially designed MRI-linked computer program. The process tracks glucose metabolism in the hippocampus (memory) area of the brain. Decreased metabolic activity is seen as an indicator for cognitive problems and a risk factor for Alzheimer’s.

The second study involved “magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) which is an MRI-type scan used to examine brain biochemical activity as opposed to brain structure. Neurochemical differences between “normal” individuals and those carrying a gene strongly associated with a high predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease indicate the possibility of early detection of cognitive decline.

The final study could be the most promising in terms of availability and expense in that it involves a simple, painless blood test.  The test is used to detect two protein markers which when analyzed together and in ratio with one another provide strong evidence of future development of Alzheimer’s disease.       

Although the high-tech detection methods seem to be further along in terms of development, the blood screen is attractive because it is far less expensive, requires no special equipment or training at the site of the test only laboratory facilities which may analyze blood samples from many locations, makes screening available in remote and less-developed areas, and is more easily assimilated into normal medical office routine.

Early detection of impending Alzheimer’s disease, while encouraging, is somewhat premature as a method of reducing or eradicating the debilitating condition since effective treatments and preventive therapies are largely nonexistent or only in early stages of development at the present time.

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