Study: Brain Size Predicts Alzheimer’s Risk


brainA MRI scan of the brain may be a tool that helps pinpoint the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease years before memory problems begin. Research published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, found that people who have smaller regions of the brain’s cortex, even if they currently have no memory problems, may be more vulnerable to developing symptoms consistent with very early Alzheimer’s disease.

“The ability to identify people who are not showing memory problems and other symptoms but may be at a higher risk for cognitive decline is a very important step toward developing new ways for doctors to detect Alzheimer’s disease,” said Susan Resnick, Ph.D., with the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, who wrote an accompanying editorial.

Researchers used brain scans to measure the thickness of specific areas of the brain’s cortex of 159 people. Previous studies had found that certain areas of the cortex undergo changes in people with Alzheimer’s. At the beginning of the study, all participants – average age of 76 – were free of dementia, but 19 were considered at high risk for developing early Alzheimer’s because areas in their cortex were smaller. Of the remaining participants, 116 were classified as average risk and 24 as low risk.

At the onset of the study and during the following three years, participants were given tests that measured memory, problem solving, and the ability to plan and pay attention.

The found that 21 percent of those at high risk experienced cognitive decline during the three years following the MRI scan, compared to 7 percent of those at average risk and none of those at low risk.

In addition, the study found that 60 percent of those considered most at risk for developing early Alzheimer’s had abnormal levels of proteins associated with the disease in cerebrospinal fluid, compared to 36 percent of those at average risk and 19 percent of those at low risk.

Last month, a new technique was revealed that promises to give doctors an accurate test for Alzheimer’s disease in living patients, allowing earlier treatment to slow progression of the disease. It combines a positron emission technology (PET) scan with Flutemetamol, a new compound developed by GE Healthcare that highlights parts of the brain affected by beta amyloid plaques, the accumulation of growths brought on by Alzheimer’s disease.

German scientists are also developing a nasal spray which can detect the destructive proteins associated with Alzheimer’s. Scientists at the Technical University of Darmstadt have discovered that nasal mucous harbors deposits of the same harmful tau protein which kills brain cells. A fluorescent dye, which is delivered via a nasal spray, makes the tau protein visible, and shining a light up the patient’s nose using an endoscope reveals the detrimental tau protein. “The more nasal tau-protein deposits we found in patients, the worse were their brain structures infested,” said Professor Boris Schmidt.

By detecting Alzheimer’s in early stages – years before symptoms of dementia appear – researchers hope that new therapies can delay or halt its progress.

{Newsmax Health/ Newscenter}