Imaging Reveals New Target for Alzheimer's Treatment
New technology has allowed scientists at Northwestern Medicine unprecedented insight into a rare form of language dementia called primary progressive aphasia (PPA). PPA is characterized by the buildup of a toxic amyloid protein that is also linked to Alzheimer’s memory dementia, meaning their breakthrough study could have a considerable impact on Alzheimer’s research as well.
Previously, scientists could only study amyloid accumulation after someone with Alzheimer’s disease had died. At which stage, the disease had run its full course and the toxic protein had spread through the entire brain. But in a first-of-it-kind study, the Northwestern Medicine team, led by Emily Rogalski, PhD, research associate professor at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, used a breakthrough technique called Amyloid PET Imaging to examine the buildup at an earlier stage.
Using the advanced imaging, scientists were able to compare the beta-amyloid buildup in patients with PPA and those with Alzheimer’s memory dementia, a far more common type of dementia also caused by amyloid buildup. The team looked at 32 patients with PPA and 22 with Alzheimer’s memory dementia and discovered that the toxic protein was distributed differently in the two diseases. Specifically, patients with PPA had far more amyloid on the left side of the brain.
This difference may also explain why PPA causes patients to lose the ability to express themselves and understand language because the center of language processing is also located on the left side of the brain.
Rogalski and her team hope this discovery will create a better understanding of both diseases and help target treatment based on where amyloid is accumulating. The study marks an exciting development in Alzheimer’s research as it may eventually allow for earlier diagnosis with better accuracy while also paving the way for future drug trials.