Scientists have discovered a drug that can aid in the detection of Alzheimer’s disease before the condition develops.
Alzheimer’s disease is a non-reversible disorder of the brain, characterised by progressive deterioration of memory and thinking ability. It is the most common cause of dementia (National Institute on Aging, 2011). People with dementia lose their cognitive and behavioural function. Alzheimer’s disease is age-related and mostly seen in the elderly over 60 years of age. The earliest symptoms, which develop later in life, including confusion and loss of memory (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2012) may appear to be normal changes that occur due to old age. Hence, pinpointing those with Alzheimer’s disease is almost impossible.
Experts estimate that there are 5.5 million people in the US and over 35 million people worldwide with Alzheimer’s disease (Querfurth & LaFerla, 2010). With the development of the disease, the severity of the symptoms increases to an extent that it interferes with daily life activities of Alzheimer sufferers. Eventually they completely lose their cognitive and behavioural functions, and die. At present, there is no test to detect Alzheimer’s disease in the living. It is only possible to confirm the diagnosis when an autopsy carried out on the deceased shows plagues in the brain.
A definitive cause for Alzheimer’s disease and the reason why Alzheimer’s mostly affect the older adults are still unknown and being researched by scientists. In addition, studies done in an effort to understand the normal changes that occur in the brain with aging, is providing insights to the disease process of Alzheimer’s disease. Research done on Alzheimer’s disease suggests that genetics, environmental and lifestyle factors play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s (National Institute on Aging, 2011). Drugs developed so far helps reduce the symptoms of the disease, improving the quality of life of Alzheimer’s victims.
Figure: Alzheimer’s progression (National Institute on Aging, 2011).
A recent discovery by researchers from Banner Sun Health Research Institute in Arizona has brought new hope to victims of Alzheimer’s disease. According to researchers, Florbetaben, an experimental drug, may aid in the differential diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, years before the condition develops (Ricci, 2012). Early detection and treatment of this disorder would delay its development for several years. Currently, there is no drug to slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Plagues and tangles in the brain and the loss of communication between nerve cells in the brain are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease (National Institute on Aging, 2011). Amyloid plagues (clumping of the protein beta-Amyloid), lightens up on a PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan when patients are injected with Florbetaben (Laino & Chang, 2012). Though this drug does not directly detect Alzheimer’s disease in patients, it will help skilled doctors to diagnose or rule out the condition. The course of Alzheimer’s disease is not fully understood; apparently, the damage to the brain starts years before the actual symptoms of the disease are displayed in the affected.
Figure: Alzheimer’s Scan (Ricci, 2012).
Experts who made this discovery announced their findings at the annual meeting held by the American Academy of Neurology in New Orleans, last April. Initially during the study, a test group of Alzheimer’s patients were injected with the Florbetaben and their PET and MRI images were taken. In the late stages, those scans were compared with 31 images taken from the subjects within the test group after their death (Ricci, 2012). Several radioactive drugs including Florbetaben are subjected to extensive research on their ability to detect Alzheimer’s disease.
Laino, C., & Chang, L. (2012). Drugs May help Diagnose Alzheimer’s Earlier. Retrieved May 10, 2012, from http://www.rxlist.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=157126
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2012, January 4). NIDS Alzheimer’s Disease Information Page. Retrieved May 10, 2012, from National Institutes of Health Website: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/alzheimersdisease/alzheimersdisease.htm?css=print
National Institute on Aging. (2011, July). Alzheimer’s Disease Fact Sheet. Retrieved May 10, 2012, from National Institutes of Health Website: http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/alzheimers-disease-fact-sheet
Querfurth, H.W., & LaFerla, F.M. (2010, January 28). Mechanisms of Disease: Alzheimer’s Disease. The New England Journal of Medicine, 362 (4), 329-344. Retrieved May 10, 2012, from http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra0909142
Ricci, R. (2012). New Breakthrough In Alzheimer’s Detection. Retrieved May 10, 2012, from http://www.my-health-world.com/blog/2012/04/23/new-breakthrough-alzheimers-detection/