Early detection of Alzheimer’s disease could soon be possible, thanks to the development of chemical agents that can be used to detect the disease on a brain scan. Companies like Bayer and General Electric, that produce medical imaging equipment, are forging the trail in the development of this new technology, according to the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA).
Early Detection of Alzheimer’s Disease Offers Many Benefits
Early detection could mean a major step towards treating the disease, and will certainly aid in prevention. Current treatments, like the pharmaceutical product Aricept, have been shown to slow the progression of cognitive decline, but are indicated for patients already exhibiting symptoms of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. They also only slow the progression of the disease, but do not reverse it. According to the Wall Street Journal, some experimental drugs are proving effective in treating Alzheimer’s disease very early on, but are too weak to treat the stage at which most patients are diagnosed today.
New imaging technology will also offer practitioners the ability to make a definitive diagnosis, whereas current diagnostics are based solely on an assessment of memory and cognitive function, which can be somewhat subjective. In fact, the Wall Street Journal notes that 15-20% of Alzheimer’s patients have been misdiagnosed. Even post-mortem analysis of brain tissue can’t lead to a definitive conclusion; even if the plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease is detected, it hasn’t been proven conclusively to be the cause of the disease.
Finally, early detection can aid families in making plans for long-term care needs, giving patients the opportunity to actively participate in the decision-making process. Families can work together to create a financial plan for saving for assisted living or nursing home care, or create alternative plans for aging in place.
Avid recently presented results from a phase 3 trial at the American Academy of Neurology annual conference in Toronto, which showed promise by correctly indicating which patients had the disease. Bayer is also conducting late-stage clinical testing of an experimental imaging compound, while GE has a compound in the mid-phase testing. Final results from these studies are expected over the next several years (some as early as 2011), and favorable findings could potentially lead to an approval in the near future.
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