Can a simple brain scan detect Alzheimer's disease?

Published: by Interim HealthCare in Alzheimer's

While there currently is no cure for Alzheimer's disease or dementia, early detection can delay or prevent the onset of extreme cognitive decline. According to the Alzheimer's Association, the goal of early detection is to diagnose the disease before the symptoms begin. The next step is developing treatments to target the disease in its earliest stages before irreversible brain damage occurs.

For these reasons, researchers continue to develop new detection methods. A recent study, conducted by researchers at McGill University and McGill-affiliated health institutes, discovered a connection between changes in the brain's anatomy and early signs that could help develop a non-invasive test to detect Alzheimer's disease, even before the symptoms appear.

An important link

Scientists have known that the buildup of protein levels, specifically amyloid-Beta and tau, and loss in brain volume are initial signs of cognitive decline. They are called biomarkers, which can provide accurate and reliable measurements to indicate the presence of disease. These markers also help determine the stages of disease development.

The McGill researchers followed 88 participants who did not show any cognitive signs of Alzheimer's, but who were at hereditary risk of the disease. They extracted cerebrospinal fluid to test the protein levels and conducted MRI scans to determine brain volume. After analyzing the statistics, the researchers concluded that high levels of amyloid-beta and tau are linked to smaller hippocampal brain volume, which is an early sign of cognitive decline. These biomarkers can aid in future clinical trials testing the effectiveness of new drugs. The connection also suggests MRI scans can be used to detect changes in brain volume that precede more severe deterioration in brain health.

Non-invasive detection

If an MRI alone can identify those at risk of cognitive disease, patients will no longer have to undergo the painful lumbar puncture procedure to determine their chances of developing Alzheimer's. Less than half of those with Alzheimer's or dementia are aware of their diagnosis, according to the Alzheimer's Impact Movement. Along with the Alzheimer's Association, they recommended ways to increase detection and diagnosis, which included raising awareness of symptoms and initial signs of cognitive disease, collecting data on early detection and supporting research outcomes of early diagnosis methods. This new research is a huge step forward in efforts to diagnose the disease before the onset of permanent mental decline.

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