New York Times (January 18, 2011): Two Tests Could Aid in Risk Assessment and Early Diagnosis of Alzheimer's

Publication Date: 
Tue, 01/18/2011

Researchers are reporting major advances toward resolving two underlying problems involving Alzheimer's disease:  How do you know if someone who is demented has it? And how can you screen the general population to see who is at risk?

One study, reported in The New York Times in June, evaluated a new type of brain scan that can detect plaques that are uniquely characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.

On Thursday, an advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration, which requested the study, will review it and make a recommendation on whether to approve the test for marketing.

The second study asked whether a blood test could detect beta amyloid, the protein fragment that makes up Alzheimer’s plaque, and whether blood levels of beta amyloid were associated with a risk of memory problems. The answer was yes, but the test is not ready to be used for screening.

Both studies are to published in The Journal of the American Medical Association on Wednesday.

“These are two very important papers, and I don’t always say that,” said Neil S. Buckholtz, chief of the Dementias of Aging Branch of the National Institute on Aging.

The new brain scan involved a dye developed by Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, now owned by Eli Lilly. The dye attaches to plaque in  patients’ brains, making it visible on PET scans.