X-Ray May Detect Alzheimer's Disease Early
Researchers have developed a highly detailed x-ray machine that can detect Alzheimer’s disease early. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory developed the x-ray technique in hopes of helping scientists track dense areas of protein that form in the brain of Alzheimer’s disease patients, called amyloid beta (Aß) plaques. The x-ray could aid in the development of drugs to remove the harmful proteins that lead to cognitive decline associated Alzheimer’s disease.
Amyloid beta plaques are tiny, and cannot be found with current brain imaging techniques. The research is the first to use the x-ray technique, previously used to find small tumors in the breast, and in cartilage and joints of the knee and ankle. The x-ray would prove to be an inexpensive way to find miniscule plaques, identifying Alzheimer’s disease in patients before it progresses, while tracking the progress of drugs that might be developed for treatment.
Dean Connor, a former postdoctoral researcher at Brookhaven Lab now working for the University of North Carolina says, “Certain methods can visualize the plaque load, or overall number of plaques, which plays a role in clinical assessment and analysis of drug efficacy. But these methods cannot provide the resolution needed to show us the properties of individual Aß plaques.” Getting a close look at plaques in the brain that cause Alzheimer’s disease can tell researchers much more than previously known about the disease.
For the study, the scientists used micro-computed tomography combined with diffraction-enhanced imaging (DEI). They found that the high-resolution imaging provided by the technique outperformed MRI. The x-ray technique was used on mouse models with amyloid beta plaques found in the brain of Alzheimer’s disease patients.
The x-ray images were “amazing”, according to the researchers, but the radiation dose is too high to be used in humans to study Alzheimer’s disease. Connor says the x-ray shows “that we can see these plaques in a full brain, which means we can produce images from a live animal and learn how these plaques grow.” There is still much to learn about Alzheimer’s disease, and how amyloid plaques destroy the brain. The new study show promise for new imaging techniques that may be able to help with early detection of Alzheimer’s disease, while tracking the progress of new drugs that could be used to halt progression of the disease.