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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

PET Scans May Help With Alzheimer's Diagnosis

Studies Show PET Scans May Be Useful Tool in Detecting Alzheimer's
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Checking for Alzheimer's continued...

Highly likely does not mean 100%, he says.

The tests may ultimately help rule out Alzheimer's disease, instead of rule it in, Fleischer says.

"If you don't have amyloid protein in your brain, even if you have dementia, it's not Alzheimer's disease," he says. "It's a slam dunk."

Many drug companies are working on drugs that target amyloid plaques in the brain, and the only way to determine if these drugs are effective is with this screening technology, he says.

"Before we had to wait for symptoms, but now we can see if there is evidence that these drugs are removing amyloid," he says.

Dementia is a late stage of Alzheimer's disease, he says. "The pathology starts in the brain 10 to 20 years before symptoms," he says. "We need ways to identify early Alzheimer's disease in living patients and that is where amyloid imaging comes into play."

Predicting Alzheimer's Disease

William J. Jagust, MD, a neurologist at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at the University of California at Berkeley, says that "we are all very excited because these tests may help us predict who may get Alzheimer's disease, and allow us to intervene before it starts, but we still don't have a good treatment for Alzheimer's disease."

Jagust wrote an editorial accompanying the new research.

"It could be a really big deal if we have an effective drug," he says. "A high proportion of people who don't have full-blown Alzheimer's disease do have amyloid in brain, so this gives us an opportunity to test drugs."

It's not always black and white, Jagust says. "Some tests are positive and others are negative. But the value of intermediate or borderline scans is unknown."

Marc L. Gordon, MD, a neurologist and Alzheimer's disease researcher at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, N.Y., says the new tests "tell you whether you have amyloid binding in your brain, not whether or not you have Alzheimer's disease."

"In the future, if we develop medications that are disease-modifying and effective amyloid-based therapies, these tests may be useful," he says.

"Stay tuned," Gordon says. "People who have no symptoms should not be getting PET imaging because we can't tell a young, healthy person that doesn't have dementia that they will or won't develop it."

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