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Brain imaging may identify Alzheimer's before symptoms set in

September 23, 2013

Finding the earliest signs of Alzheimer's disease has been one of the most significant focuses of memory care in recent years. By diagnosing the condition early, seniors and their families can better plan for the future and take steps to mitigate the disease's impact. A new study from researchers at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Japan may offer some of the best chances for early diagnosis yet, as scientists believe PET scans may be able to pinpoint tau proteins well before any symptom show up.

A two-pronged approach
The study was focused on developing a diagnostic method that could work in tandem with another approach, which targets the amyloid-beta proteins - hallmarks of Alzheimer's. By using PET scans to complement amyloid-beta imaging, scientists believe they can get a better picture of the brain and diagnose Alzheimer's as early as possible. The preliminary findings have been positive, according to BBC News. By using fluorescent tags that can cross the blood brain barrier, researchers have seen success in identifying where tau is accumulating in both mice and human subjects.

"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," Eric Karran of Alzheimer's Research in the U.K., told BBC News. "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."

A breakthrough, but more work remains
Although a method to detect Alzheimer's early is certainly important, if there are no effective treatments or a cure, it might all be for naught. There are approximately 5.2 million Americans currently living with the disease and it is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Alzheimer's Association. While the statistics are troubling, experts say they will increase considerably in the coming years. As the senior population grows, the Alzheimer's Association anticipates that the number of people with he condition will triple by 2050. Additionally, costs associated with treating and caring for the disease will reach about $1.2 trillion by that same year, and that's just in the U.S., CNN reported.