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Can PET scans predict onset of Alzheimer's?

– The University of California, Berkeley, is joining a bold initiative to test whether brain imaging can be combined with other biological markers and clinical information to measure the progression of mild cognitive impairment and early Alzheimer's disease.

The National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health, announced the five-year, $60 million Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative today (Wednesday, Oct. 13). More than 50 sites across the United States and Canada will participate in the public-private project.

Dr. William Jagust
Dr. William Jagust

"This effort is unlike anything anyone has ever done," said Dr. William Jagust, professor of neuroscience at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health and leader of the initiative's research on positron emission tomography (PET). "This research will tell us whether using clues provided through neuroimaging can help us predict who will go on to develop Alzheimer's disease."

PET scans have shown that the brain of an Alzheimer's patient metabolizes glucose at lower levels than does a healthy brain. Jagust also added that studying changes in the brain over time will help in the evaluation of new drugs being developed to treat Alzheimer's.

Some 800 adults ages 55 to 90 will be recruited for the study. Approximately 200 cognitively healthy adults will be compared to 400 people with mild cognitive impairment and 200 people with Alzheimer's disease.

Jagust will coordinate the research activities involving PET scans, but UC Berkeley will not be involved in recruiting patients.

Dr. Michael Weiner, professor of medicine at UC San Francisco and director of the Magnetic Resonance Unit at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, is the principal investigator of the overall project. Dr. Clifford Jack Jr. at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Minnesota is leading the research on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The federal agencies funding this study are the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, and the Food and Drug Administration. Two-thirds of the study cost is coming from government funding and the rest from a number of private companies and organizations.

More information:

Q&A about the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative

National Institute on Aging press release