Alzheimer's disease is an irreversible neurodegenerative disorder with no known cause or cure, first diagnosed in 1901. From, what was known at that time, we have come a long way in understanding the disease process. The disease is characterized by symptoms of memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, personality changes, disorientation and loss of language skills.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a term used to describe a subtle but measurable deterioration of cognitive capabilities, such as memory function. Individuals with MCI are able to function reasonably well in everyday activities, such as managing finances and purchasing items at stores without assistance, but may have difficulty remembering details of conversations, events and upcoming appointments.
Patients with MCI cannot be diagnosed as being afflicted with Alzheimer's. However, the disorder is seen as a precursor to Alzheimer's disease. Many patients with MCI develop a progressive decline in their thinking abilities over time with Alzheimer's as the underlying cause.
It is possible to diagnose the disease with a higher degree of precision and accuracy with an imaging modality known as Positron emission tomography (PET) imaging is coupled with the radiotracer fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG).
PET is a safe, effective and painless biological imaging exam that "photographs" or detects the presence and extent of neurological conditions. PET uses very small amounts of radioactive materials that are targeted to specific organs, bones or tissues. Radiotracers (such as FDG) are injected and then detected by a special type of camera that works with computers to provide precise pictures of the area of the body being imaged and molecular images of the body's biological functions.
PET imaging with FDG represents one of the most promising tools for diagnosis of Alzheimer's. In fact, using PET imaging with FDG may be the best indicator for determining which MCI patients are most at risk of developing Alzheimer's. Most MCI patients who showed abnormalities typical of Alzheimer's in their original PET scan developed dementia within 16 months, according to findings from the 30-patient study. Most patients who did not show abnormalities in their original PET scan remained stable, he added.
This study implies that PET and nuclear medicine should continue to be strongly involved in the challenging process of Alzheimer's research for early diagnosis as well as for the development and evaluation of new treatment options. It is of increasing importance to identify 'converters' at the earliest possible stage of disease to develop and evaluate new and upcoming treatment options for Alzheimer's, according to researchers.