Research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2017 in London highlights the clinical value of amyloid-beta PET scans, which detect the presence of amyloid-beta plaques in the brain.
The plaques are one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease which means it gets worse over time.
The disease causes a loss of connection between nerve cells in the brain which can also lead to a loss of brain function.
Current research argues the disease is caused by a built up of proteins in the brain which are commonly known as ‘plaques’.
Build-up of these proteins along with the death of brain cells defines the disease and leads to people’s dementia symptoms, which include memory loss, confusion and disorientation.
These plaques, which are sometimes known as ‘tangles’ can be spotted using special scanning equipment.
However, studies have revealed an underutilisation of amyloid-beta PET imaging in clinical care.
There are a number of different types of positron emission tomography (PET) scan that can be used in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
FDG PET scans show glucose metabolism which can indicate the brain isn’t functioning properly.
Amyloid PET scans reveal the level of amyloid, one of the key hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, in the brain.
While FDG PET scans have been available for some time, amyloid PET scans are relatively novel, and show particular promise as they relate more directly to amyloid.
Dr James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease can be challenging, especially in younger people, or people who present with less common symptoms.
“There is no single definitive test for dementia, and when doctors have exhausted other routine diagnostic approaches, they should have the option of offering people an amyloid PET scan.
“This research shows that amyloid PET scans can add useful information in the diagnosis of certain cases.
“However, they are not accurate enough to be used to identify Alzheimer’s disease before people have symptoms.
“This should be wakeup call for the UK.
“We are behind the curve in using these scans to help with diagnosing dementia.
“Much of the research on amyloid PET scans is from the USA or other countries, so we need to see more evidence about how useful these scans are in the NHS to ensure the UK does not lag behind.”