Researchers have caught sight of Alzheimer's-like plaques in the brains of rabbits using a conventional MRI scan, in what could be an important step towards early detection of Alzheimer's in humans. Researchers say that an earlier, easier diagnosis of the disease would allow patients to try more drugs and other therapies that could slow the progress of dementia. Diagnosis by a commonly available clinical MRI scan would be a vast improvement over current methods.
Many tools are used to look for signs of Alzheimer's, including a battery of cognitive and behavioral tests... and imaging studies called PET scans that require the injection of special chemicals that help light up the brain. But doctors can make a definitive diagnosis only after a patient dies by identifying the presence of brain lesions called amyloid plaques [USA Today].
In the study, unveiled at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease, researchers
fed rabbits a high-cholesterol diet for two years, which caused them to form amyloid plaques in their brains. Scans of these rabbits revealed void areas or black spots in several areas including the hippocampus, an important memory center in the brain. Autopsies found small clusters of amyloid plaques in these void areas, not found in rabbits fed a normal diet [Reuters].
Researchers say that their technique, in which they altered an MRI scanner to detect smaller structures, is more easily used on the small brains of rabbits.
Although the scanners employed in the study are routinely used for humans, it's unclear what the results might actually mean for humans.... "This technology is not directly translatable to human imaging, but we feel this might inspire other people to consider this approach," [lead researcher John] Ronald said [HealthDay News].