Seeking earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer s disease

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Using brain scans, researchers from Banner Alzheimer s Institute in Arizona have detected some of the earliest signs of Alzheimer s disease, more than two decades before symptoms would normally occur.

Researchers led by Dr. Eric Reiman used MRI scans to look at the brains of 20 patients in Colombia with a genetic mutation virtually guaranteeing that they get Alzheimer s in their 40s. The scans showed differences in the brains of the 18-to-26-year-olds, compared to those of 24 people who did not carry that mutation. The fluid around their brains also had higher levels of a protein called beta-amyloid, a molecule that plays a part in plaque formation in the brain.

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom calls this an important finding. This is because the best way to potentially stop the progression of Alzheimer s is through early treatment, which requires an early diagnosis. For example, he says, the first studies of Alzheimer s vaccines have suggested that the vaccine did trigger an immune response against amyloid plaques. This may have been a proof of concept, but whether it will translate into the prevention of plaque formation when given early enough to make a difference remains to be seen.