The team of scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, has developed a new test which allows to identify the beginnings of Alzheimer's years before the first symptoms of the disease emerge.
The researchers presented their results at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington. They say the tests allowed them to single out people who went on to develop the condition.
Their study was the following: they watched about 60 healthy old people for about three years, using two brain-imaging techniques and exercises designed to probe memory and cognition.
Six of the group developed forms of dementia and several others started to suffer from the cognitive impairments that precede full-blown Alzheimer's. When the researchers looked back at the scans taken at the start of the project, they found that several brain areas showed tell-tale signs in these subjects. Neural activity in temporal and parietal lobes, for example, was below average in people that later scored poorly in cognitive tests.
The scientists say the long-term aim of their work is to tie the tests in with future drug treatments. Several drugs are being developed to inhibit the build up of the plaques and tangles of protein that build up in the brain and cause Alzheimer's, and these treatments are likely to be most effective if they can be applied before clinical signs of the disease emerge. I.L.