Brain scans may detect Alzheimer’s before symptoms show

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic, in Minnesota, studied 311 cognitively healthy people in their 70s and 80s. They carried out a series of tests to assess their memory, thinking and language skills, as well as two sets of brain scans.

PET scans were used to track levels of amyloid, a hallmark protein that builds in the brain in Alzheimer’s. A second brain imaging technique, called proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (H MRS), was used to measure several brain metabolites – molecules that are involved in metabolism.

They found that people with high levels of amyloid in their brains tended to have high levels of some brain metabolites. People with a high ratio of certain metabolites, choline/creatine, also scored lower in cognitive tests, whether or not they had high levels of amyloid. Their findings are published today (24 August) in Neurology online.

The researchers believe H MRS imaging could be used to identify people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms appear, and want to see follow-up studies to test this theory.

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“These findings give us a potential new lead in the search for ways to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease early. We would need to see the results of large-scale, long-term studies before we can know for sure whether this method can accurately predict Alzheimer’s.

“The ability to predict who will develop Alzheimer’s is a key target for research, as it would provide a window of opportunity to test new treatments early, when they are most likely to be effective. Dementia already affects 820,000 people in the UK, and with that number increasing, research is vital if we are to head off a dementia crisis.”

Alzheimer’s Research UK