By George Segall, MD
The current process for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease may include a detailed patient history, physical and neurological exams, laboratory tests, and a lengthy process of eliminating other possible causes of mental decline. For those caring for family members with suspected Alzheimer’s disease, this can be a long and arduous process filled with many questions and concerns. Does my loved one have Alzheimer’s disease? When will we know for sure so we can start treatment?
Researchers are exploring how positron emission tomography can help physicians diagnose Alzheimer’s disease earlier and more accurately and effectively manage symptoms in patients with the disease.
Although there is no cure, some recent advances in nuclear medicine and molecular imaging can help in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a new molecular imaging agent that aids in the detection of beta amyloid plaques in the brain. If the test indicates large concentrations of amyloid plaques, then physicians have an additional piece of information to consider in their diagnosis of the patient’s medical/neurological status. If the test shows the absence of plaques, then it makes Alzheimer’s disease less likely.
In addition to helping in the assessment of patients with cognitive impairment, the availability of molecular imaging agents to detect amyloid plaques provides a valuable opportunity for further clinical research and for clinical trials. It is our hope that information garnered from molecular imaging agents will play a pivotal role in the development of new treatments that can help the millions of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease.
George Segall, MD, serves as chief of the Nuclear Medicine Service at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, Palo Alto, Calif., and professor of radiology at Stanford University, Stanford, Calif. He is currently president of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and has published more than 60 peer-reviewed journal articles and authored six book chapters on nuclear and molecular imaging.