A new PET tracer
Late last year, scientists reported in the Journal of Nuclear Medicine that they had identified a new PET (positron emission tomography) tracer for tau tangles in the brain. The protein tau collects and builds up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. The tracer – called Flortaucipir – has been used in research since 2013 and is now awaiting regulatory approval for more widespread use. Identifying tau tangles in the brain can help diagnose Alzheimer’s. Drug developers are also hoping to target these tangles with new drugs.
New tests to catch Alzheimer’s early
At the moment, positron emission tomography imaging (PET scans) or invasive tests like sampling your cerebrospinal fluid are the only ways to catch Alzheimer’s in its early stages. But researchers have been developing blood tests that can detect amyloid beta, a toxic protein that forms the brain plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Scientists from Germany and Sweden analysed archived blood that was collected between July 2000 and December 2002 in a study of adults aged 50 to 75. The researchers then compared the samples from adults who were later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s with those from people who didn’t develop the disease. The new test correctly identified those with Alzheimer’s in almost 70 per cent of cases. Even better, this test could have spotted the disease up to eight years earlier. Another study produced a blood test that could spot Alzheimer’s even sooner – up to 20 years before diagnosis.
Even though a blood test won’t cure Alzheimer’s, it could help researchers develop treatments designed to slow the progress of the disease by identifying at-risk patients before too much damage has occurred. More work needs to be done to advance the treatment, but some researchers are hopeful that the blood test will be readily available to the public within a few years.
Promising new drugs
Even in the age of modern medicine, most new drugs and treatments for Alzheimer’s fail. Which is why experts are cautiously optimistic about something called BAN2401: not only does this antibody reduce amyloid brain plaques, but it also slows cognitive decline. In the study, reports the New York Times, researchers gave 856 patients from the United States, Japan and Europe injections of BAN2401. Doctors had previously diagnosed the patients with either mild cognitive impairment or mild Alzheimer’s dementia; they all had large amounts of amyloid beta in their brains. Only 161 patients were injected with the highest of the five doses of BAN2401 – every two weeks for 18 months. In the highest-dose group, 81 per cent showed significant drops in their amyloid levels. While their cognitive skills still declined, they did so at a rate that was 30 per cent slower than the placebo group’s rate of decline.
More trials are needed to truly determine the drug’s effectiveness and safety before the FDA gives its stamp of approval for Alzheimer’s patients.