First-time Ever: New Method Detects Alzheimer’s Before Symptoms
Until now, no methods have existed for early detection of Alzheimer’s, a disease which currently affects an estimated 5.2 million Americans. Up until this point, we’ve had to wait for serious memory loss to take its toll before identifying Alzheimer’s, and many people wait even longer, mistakenly believing that memory loss is a normal part of aging.
According to Alz.Org, Alzheimer’s Association, we can’t afford not to find treatment for this disease:
“Alzheimer’s disease is the most expensive condition in the nation. In 2014, the direct costs to American society of caring for those with Alzheimer’s will total an estimated $214 billion, including $150 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid. Despite these staggering figures, Alzheimer’s will cost an estimated $1.2 trillion (in today’s dollars) in 2050. Nearly one in every five dollars spent by Medicare is on people with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.”
A new study offers hope of early detection long before symptoms appear.
According to one of the lead researchers, Dr. William L. Klein of Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, “We have a new brain imaging method that can detect the toxin that leads to Alzheimer’s disease….Using MRI, we can see the toxins attached to neurons in the brain.”
In the past, there have been different theories about the causes of Alzheimer’s, but researchers involved in this new study think that they’ve found a cause: toxic amyloid beta oligomers, not plaques as previously studied.
Plaques only occur at a late stage of Alzheimer’s, whereas amyloid beta oligomers are now believed to be involved at the onset.
Over time, the amyloid beta builds up and starts to stick together, forming the plaques, but the oligomers may appear more than a decade before plaques are detected.
“Non-invasive imaging by MRI of amyloid beta oligomers is a giant step forward towards diagnosis of this debilitating disease in its earliest form,” said Dravid, the Abraham Harris Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Early detection could lead to better treatments and less memory loss.
Klein agrees, “We expect to use this tool to detect this disease early and to help identify drugs that can effectively eliminate the toxin and improve health.”