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New radiotracer enables easier diagnosis of Alzheimer's

brain2.jpgWhat, exactly, is going on with grandma?

In clinical settings, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Most diagnoses depend on neurocognitive tests; some trickier cases are settled in the few hospitals and academic medical centers that have access to the radiotracer known as Pittsburg, a compound whose usefulness is limited by a 20-minute half-life.

Now, a Johns Hopkins team says it has proven the effectiveness of a new, longer-lasting radiotracer known as florbetapir F18. The compound has a more forgiving half-life of 110 minutes, which would allow for significant transportation away from manufacturing facilities.

In their study (.pdf), researchers injected 26 volunteers - 15 of them healthy and 11 previously diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease - with florbetapir F18 and performed PET scans of their brains. Within 30 minutes, the brains of Alzheimer’s patients showed significantly heavier accumulation of the compound compared to the controls. (The florbetapir F18 is drawn to a protein that accumulates abnormally in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.) None of the subjects showed any ill effects from the test.

Said study author Dean Wong, MD, PhD:

"We could easily tell apart the two groups of patientsThis is the first time we've been able to get results like this with a compound that can travel beyond the confines of a major academic medical center to the majority of the U.S. population."

As my colleague Lia Steakley reported in a recent post, the number of Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s will more than double by 2050 - a development that will come at great economic (and emotional) cost.

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