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Major Imaging Initiative to Shed Light on Little Known Brain Disease
Date:1/25/2010

UCSF scientists have received a $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to embark on a major neuroimaging study of a degenerative brain disease that is at least as common as Alzheimer’s disease in people under age 6

(Vocus) January 25, 2010 -- UCSF scientists have received a $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to embark on a major neuroimaging study of a degenerative brain disease that is at least as common as Alzheimer’s disease in people under age 60.

The fatal disease, known as frontotemporal dementia, affects decision-making, behavior, emotion and language. It gradually destroys the ability to behave in a socially appropriate manner, to empathize with others, learn, reason, make judgments, communicate and carry out daily activities. Because of the changes in personality that occur, the disease is perplexing for loved ones before a diagnosis is made and remains a particularly distressing disorder to manage. Some patients, as a result of their disease, mishandle money, commit adultery and carry out criminal behaviors, such as embezzlement.

Scientists have identified several mutated genes associated with the various forms of the disease, each of which in its own way leads to destruction of nerve cells in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. However, there are no therapies targeting the proteins the gene’s produce, though a multi-institutional trial is under way to test a drug that targets some of the disease’s symptoms.

The current study, led by Howard Rosen, MD, UCSF associate professor of neurology, is intended to determine how to use new imaging techniques to illuminate the changes that occur in the brain as the disease progresses. This information will enable scientists to identify biomarkers for diagnosis and, most importantly, track the impact of experimental drugs.

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