Longtime Alzheimer's researcher William Klein led a team of investigators at Northwestern University which developed a new imaging technology they say can flag the neurodegenerative disease at a very early stage of development, possibly highlighting a fresh approach for developing new therapies as well as testing them at a point when treatments may still be effective.
The imaging tech pairs a molecular nanostructure with an antibody designed to latch on to the toxic protein that remains one of the chief culprits behind the memory-stealing disease, which afflicts millions. While there is currently available imaging tech for amyloid beta plaque from Eli Lilly ($LLY), GE ($GE) and others, Klein's team focused on imaging amyloid beta oligomers--which some consider a better target. And they add that the binding approach to these toxins could also improve cognition in patients by handcuffing the toxins and preventing further damage to the brain.
Their work was published in Nature Nanotechnology.
A note of caution, though, would be appropriate, as there have been a number of promising avenues in animal research that never worked as planned in large human studies. The failure rate for new drugs in the field has been 99% over the past 10 years.
The big idea here is that the oligomers are responsible for an attack on synapses in the neuron.
"We have a new brain imaging method that can detect the toxin that leads to Alzheimer's disease," Klein, a founder of Acumen Pharmaceuticals, said confidently.
But as often happens with Alzheimer's research, the researchers are insisting that they're certain of the cause and effect behind Alzheimer's, even though that's a controversial topic that seems to spark a new debate almost weekly. The FDA has always maintained that there is no consensus about the trigger behind Alzheimer's, and the scientific jury remains out on that huge question.
The team tested out their idea on mouse models and control animals, with telltale dark areas appearing in the hippocampus of rodents with the disease.
"Non-invasive imaging by MRI of amyloid beta oligomers is a giant step forward towards diagnosis of this debilitating disease in its earliest form," said Vinayak P. Dravid, the Abraham Harris Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. "This MRI method could be used to determine how well a new drug is working. If a drug is effective, you would expect the amyloid beta signal to go down."
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