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Brain Scans Detect Alzheimer's Disease Quickly
Date:6/24/2008

New technique could speed the diagnosis, French researchers say

TUESDAY, June 24 (HealthDay News) -- French radiologists report they've simplified a method of scanning the brain for signs of Alzheimer's disease, potentially making it easier to diagnose the mind-robbing condition.

It's too early for doctors to start routinely using the approach, but early tests are encouraging, said study author Olivier Colliot, a researcher from the Cognitive Neuroscience and Brain Imaging Laboratory at the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris.

Currently, the procedure required to diagnose the disease is "time-consuming and requires specific expertise," explained Colliot. "As a result, it hasn't become part of clinical routine. Our method allows performing this procedure automatically and within a few minutes."

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an estimated 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, and it's thought to affect one in 20 people between the ages of 65 and 74. The estimated rate goes up to nearly half among those 85 and older.

But diagnosing Alzheimer's disease isn't easy. The only way to be certain is to examine brain tissue after death. During life, doctors try to confirm an Alzheimer's diagnosis with a variety of tests and are right up to 90 percent of the time, according to the NIH.

One approach is to use MRI scans of the brain to determine whether brain tissue is shrinking.

This is a very recent development, Colliot said. Previously, doctors relied on MRI scans in the brain to detect tumors.

Alzheimer's shrinks the part of the brain known as the hippocampus, and MRI scans can pick up a problem. But the existing technique requires a radiologist to manually trace the contours of the brain, a process that can take an hour, Colliot said.

The approach is tedious, not highly reliable and not practical for wide use, said Dr. R. Nick Bryan, ch
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