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Emory researchers use brain imaging to learn if Alzheimer's can be detected earlier

Emory University : 10 February, 2007  (Technical Article)
Researchers at Emory University have received a $330,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health and other organizations to study the use of brain imaging to identify and treat Alzheimer's disease at an earlier stage. The multi-center research trial, called the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative, will focus on brain imaging studies (MRI and PET scans) and biomarker tests (tests to detect diseases), together with measurements of memory, thinking, and daily functioning among three different groups of volunteers.
'The goal of the study is to learn how brain imaging can be used most effectively to monitor changes in the brain in Alzheimer's disease,' says Allan Levey, MD, PhD, professor and chair of neurology, Emory University School of Medicine and lead investigator of the ADNI study at Emory. 'Most importantly, the study will determine if brain imaging can be used to predict which healthy elderly individuals will develop mild cognitive impairment, and which individuals with MCI will go on to develop AD.'

In recent years, the field of aging and dementia has moved toward trying to identify the earliest clinical signs of the process that is likely to evolve into AD. MCI has come to represent this transitional zone between the cognitive changes of normal aging and very early AD. MCI is most commonly described as a subtle but measurable memory disorder. A person with MCI has memory problems greater than normally expected with aging, but does not show other symptoms of dementia, such as impaired judgment or reasoning. Scientists are still working to understand MCI and its relationship to Alzheimer's disease.

To date, this ADNI study is the most comprehensive effort to identify neuroimaging measures and biomarkers associated with cognitive and functional changes in the healthy elderly and those with both MCI and AD.

During the five-year study, researchers at 60 plus sites in the U.S. and Canada will enroll participants in three different groups: a normal control group (200 elderly volunteers who are not having any memory problems); a mild cognitive impairment group (400 volunteers with mild memory problems); and an Alzheimer's disease group (200 volunteers with mild Alzheimer's disease). They will be followed over a period of two (AD group) to three (healthy elderly and MCI groups) years.

At Emory, four elderly volunteers who do no have any memory problems will be enrolled; eight volunteers with MCI will be enrolled; and four volunteers with AD will be enrolled.

Since this is the first study of its kind testing MRI and PET for MCI and AD, researchers are interested in learning whether PET scans, 1.5T MRI or 3T MRI will be able to provide a more accurate picture of the brain to help in detecting a change in the structure and function of the brain over time.

Samples of blood and urine will be collected on all study participants. Twenty to 50 percent of the participants will be asked to have their cerebrospinal fluid drawn and tested for changes in brain chemicals. These tests will be studied for biomarkers that might aid in the early diagnosis and be able to track the disease progression of AD and MCI.

The National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (both of the NIH), several pharmaceutical companies, the Alzheimer's Association, the Institute for Study of Aging, and the NIH Foundation are all funding this research study.

Men and women from ages 55 to 90 can participate in Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative Study. For more information, call the Emory Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at 404-728-6950.
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