Neuroimaging and the search for a cure for Alzheimer disease.
As radiologists, our role in the workup of the dementia patient has long been limited by the sensitivity of our imaging tools and lack of effective treatment options. Over the past 30 years, we have made tremendous strides in understanding the genetic, molecular, and cellular basis of Alzheimer disease (AD). We now know that the pathologic features of AD are present 1 to 2 decades prior to development of symptoms, though currently approved symptomatic therapies are administered much later in the disease course. The search for true disease-modifying therapy continues and many clinical trials are underway. Current outcome measures, based on cognitive tests, are relatively insensitive to pathologic disease progression, requiring long, expensive trials with large numbers of participants. Biomarkers, including neuroimaging, have great potential to increase the power of trials by matching imaging methodology with therapeutic mechanism. One of the most important advances over the past decade has been the development of in vivo imaging probes targeted to amyloid beta protein, and one agent is already available for clinical use. Additional advances include automated volumetric imaging methods to quantitate cerebral volume loss. Use of such techniques in small, early phase trials are expected to significantly increase the number and quality of candidate drugs for testing in larger trials. In addition to a critical role in trials, structural, molecular, and functional imaging techniques can give us a window on the etiology of AD and other neurodegenerative diseases. This combination of developments has potential to bring diagnostic radiology to the forefront in AD research, therapeutic trials, and patient care.
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