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    Brain Scan Technique Spots Alzheimer’s

    Brain Imaging Model Distinguishes Alzheimer’s Disease From Other Types of Dementia
    WebMD Health News
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    March 26, 2008 -- A computer-assisted imaging technique that measures sugar metabolism within a critical area of the brain could hold the key to the early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.

    Researchers say that the technique was accurate 94% of the time in distinguishing Alzheimer's disease from other dementias in a newly reported study published in the March issue of the Journal of Nuclear Medicine.

    It was also able to identify brain patterns associated with very early cognitive decline, raising hopes that the imaging model might lead to earlier diagnosis and better outcomes among patients with Alzheimer's and other dementias, says study researcher Lisa Mosconi, PhD.

    "Because the incidence of (Alzheimer's and related disorders) is expected to increase dramatically as the baby boomer generation ages, accurate diagnosis is extremely important -- particularly at the early and mild stages of dementia when lifestyle changes and therapeutic interventions would be most effective," Mosconi says.

    Diagnosing Alzheimer's Disease

    Mosconi and colleague Mony de Leon, EdD, both of New York University's Center for Brain Health, developed the brain scan-based computer program after identifying key changes in the part of the brain known as the hippocampus early in the course of Alzheimer's disease.

    Specifically, they found that the hippocampus, which is associated with learning and memory, metabolizes glucose less efficiently as dementia progresses. Glucose is the fuel that allows the brain to function properly.

    Using positron emission tomography (PET), the researchers were able to highlight glucose consumption patterns within the hippocampus and identify specific images associated with normal brain function, mild cognitive impairment, and different types of dementia, including Alzheimer's.

    Their latest study included 548 people examined at seven separate centers who were mostly in their 60s and 70s. The participants had either no evidence of cognitive decline, mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer's disease, or dementia due to other causes, confirmed through a battery of neurological and psychological tests.

    Each patient was injected with the radioactive isotope FDG, which mimicked glucose once it entered the body. After about 30 minutes researchers began taking pictures of the brain using PET imaging, and the images were later analyzed using the computer program developed at NYU.

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