Japanese scientists have developed pioneering brain imaging that can detect the build-up of destructive proteins linked to Alzheimer’s.
These images could lead to a new way of diagnosing the condition and testing the effectiveness of drugs. They can identify inside a living brain clumps of a protein called tau that is closely linked to the disease. This protein is thought to be one way in which brain cells are killed.
Another protein, beta amyloid, which is linked to Alzheimer’s can also be detected in similar tests.
Alzheimer’s Research UK has said it is promising work, reports the BBC.
Alzheimer’s disease has given researchers problems for trying to come up with a cure as the brain start to die years before symptoms are detected, meaning drugs are probably given too late. Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s cannot be made with absolute certainty until a patient has died and their brain is examined. It is also not clear what is caused due to dementia and what are just symptoms.
The team lead by the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Chiba used positron emission tomography to build a 3D picture of tau in the brain. They also developed a chemical that could bind to tau and then be detected during the brain scan.
Dr Makoto Higuchi, from the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Japan, said: “Positron emission tomography images of tau accumulation… provide robust information on brain regions developing or at risk for tau-induced neuronal death.”
Although the research is at an early stage it could eventually lead to a viable test for Alzheimer’s disease. It could also allow researchers to closely follow the impact drugs that affect tau have on the brain.
Dr Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “This promising early study highlights a potential new method for detecting tau – a key player in both Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia – in the living brain.
“With new drugs in development designed to target tau, scans capable of visualising the protein inside the brain could be important for assessing whether treatments in clinical trials are hitting their target.
“If this method is shown to be effective, such a scan could also be a useful aid for providing people with an accurate diagnosis, as well as for monitoring disease progression.”