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New Alzheimer’s Brain Scan Can Detect Tau Protein

Update Date: Sep 19, 2013 09:41 AM EDT

One of the most difficult age-related diseases that some seniors go through is dementia. Alzheimer's disease, which is the most common type of dementia, attacks the brain and leads to severe mental decline. Since there is currently no cure for this illness, researchers have been working hard to identify ways of diagnosing the disease earlier and treating it better. In a new study conducted by Japanese scientist, a new brain imaging technique could potentially detect the build-up of tau proteins, which have been linked to the onset of Alzheimer's.

For this study, the research team headed by the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Chiba, Japan utilized positron emission tomography. This type of machine allowed the researchers to develop a three-dimensional picture of the tau protein in the brain. Although researchers currently do not know the direct, biological causes of Alzheimer's, several studies have tied the presence of tau protein to causing the deterioration of the brain. For this picture, the research team had created a chemical that would bind with the tau protein and show up on a brain scan. The researchers tested this chemical on mice and on people that are high risk for the mental disease. The results were promising.

"Positron emission tomography images of tau accumulation...provide robust information on brain regions developing or at risk for tau-induced neuronal death," Dr. Makoto Higuchi from Japan's National Institute of Radiological Sciences said according to BBC News.

The director of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, Dr. Eric Karran, added, "This promising early study highlights a potential new method for detecting tau - a key play in both Alzheimer's and frontotemporal dementia - in the living brain. If this method is shown to be effective, such a scan could also be a usual aid for providing people with an accurate diagnosis, as well as for monitoring disease progression."

More research will need to be done before a safe and effective brain imaging test can be created and used to detect Alzheimer's in humans. The study was published in Neuron.

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