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New PET Scan Said to Detect Alzheimer’s

Dec 21, 2006 | Researchers at UCLA have discovered a new technology for examining the human brain, opening the door for advances in early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. The new imaging technique, known as positron emission tomography (PET) scanning, works by tracking the plaque and tangle accumulations in the brain that are associated with cognitive loss. The study was published in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine.

The authors of the study concluded that the PET scan “can differentiate persons with mild cognitive impairment from those with Alzheimer's disease and those with no cognitive impairment.” The study included 83 volunteers with self-reported memory problems who had undergone neurologic and psychiatric evaluation in addition to PET scanning. The PET scan uses a molecular tracer that allows doctors to detect the presence of the abnormal proteins that lead to cognitive impairment.

Scientists are optimistic that the technology will be instrumental in developing and testing medications as well as in helping with early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Currently, 4.5 million Americans suffer from the disease, a number that is expected to grow to as high as 16 million by 2050.

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