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New Alzheimer’s Test to be trialled by UoA researchers

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

Improved testing method could lead to increased early detection of disease


By Clive Davies

Dr Gordon Waiter- courtesy of University of Aberdeen


Researchers at the University of Aberdeen will be the first to trial a new method of identifying Alzheimer's disease.


According to The Office for National Statistics, dementia and Alzheimer's disease was the leading cause of UK deaths in 2018, accounting for 12.7% of all deaths registered.


An early indicator of Alzheimer's disease is a decline in the brain's utilisation of glucose. This decline is currently measured by positron emission tomography (PET) scans, which work by detecting radiation emitted by substances called radiotracers injected into the bloodstream as they collect in various parts of the body. PET scans are both expensive to perform and involve exposure to ionising radiation, making them suboptimal for routine use.


However, a newly developed method called Chemical Exchange Saturation Transfer (CEST) can scan for glucose in the brain using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI is more widely available than PET and does not require the use of ionising radiation.


In the trial, due to begin recruitment soon, University of Aberdeen researchers will attempt to use CEST to detect the differences in glucose levels between people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and volunteers of similar age without symptoms. If successful, CEST MRI has the potential to replace PET when identifying Alzheimer's in symptomatic patients or those at genetic risk.

Dr Gordon Waiter, Director of the Aberdeen Biomedical Imaging Centre at the University of Aberdeen, said: “Chemical Exchange Saturation Transfer is a promising new method for diagnosing this disease and this important study will give us more information about its effectiveness as a diagnostic tool. With a global reputation for excellence in MRI stretching back over 40 years, the University of Aberdeen is excellently placed to lead this trial.”


As the UK population ages and deaths from other causes decline, the rate and prevalence of people with dementia is anticipated to rise. According to Alzheimer's Society, a UK-based dementia charity, there are currently around 900,000 people living with dementia in the UK, a figure which is projected to increase to 1.6 million by 2040.


Although there is currently no cure for Alzheimer's or any other form of dementia, treatment is often most effective at the early stages and the progression of the disease can be slowed down in some cases if diagnosed early enough.


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