Diagnosing Alzheimer's disease

New compound may make early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease a reality

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia. While scientists have made significant progress toward understanding the fundamental biology of AD, it’s the development of effective and readily available diagnostic tools that remains the missing piece in the therapeutic puzzle.

A new compound

PhD student Chung Ying Chan and Dr Peter Barnard are using synthetic chemistry to make early diagnosis of AD a reality. They have discovered a new compound that may identify amyloid plaque in the brain using cost-effective, widely available imaging technology.

“Alzheimer’s disease is characterised by the appearance of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain,” said Dr Barnard. “Both are major causative factors in the development of the disease.”

These plaques and tangles begin to form many years before a patient shows any symptoms of the disease. By the time an individual experiences memory loss or changes in behaviour, significant brain damage has already occurred.

Accessible technology

Chan and Barnard’s tracer has been specifically designed for single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT). “SPECT scans involve the injection of a small amount of a radiopharmaceutical agent into the patient,” explains Dr Barnard. “These agents contain gamma-ray emitting radioisotopes and, when imaged, they provide a three-dimensional picture of the location of the radiopharmaceutical in the body.”

SPECT imaging is widely available in hospitals and more cost-effective than its counterpart, positron emission tomography (PET). “PET tracers are now available for AD,” said Dr Barnard, “but developing SPECT based tracers for AD will be game-changing when it comes to providing cheap and widely available diagnostics for this disease.”

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