Major Alzheimer’s test for highest resolution clinical PET camera in the world

The University of Manchester's Wolfson Molecular Imaging Centre will carry out its first positron emission tomography (PET) brain scan on a patient volunteer this Friday (24 November 2006) at 10.00.

The £22million Centre houses amongst the world's most advanced brain and body scanners, and its High Resolution Research Tomograph (HRRT) brain scanner is unique in the UK and one of only 14 worldwide. It is the highest resolution clinical PET camera in the world and, unlike conventional MRI and CT scanners, allows doctors and researchers to see how the brain functions and its metabolism at work.

After five years' development, the Centre's team has now achieved the stringent regulatory standards necessary to allow operational activities to begin. A 77 year-old former RAF pilot and air traffic controller from Bowden in Cheshire has volunteered to be the first patient through the brain scanner, as part of a study of early Alzheimer's Disease (AD).

Researcher Stephen Carter of the School of Psychological Sciences is investigating the transition from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to early AD, as MCI is often considered a precursor of Alzheimer's.

He will examine the physiological factors and mental processes at work during this transition, and hopes to determine whether reduced consumption of glucose in the brain is more closely linked to cognitive impairment than the deposition of the protein amyloid, which many believe to be the cause of AD.

The high-tech scans will also allow him to assess whether changes in connectivity between the part of the brain responsible for memory - the medial temporal lobe - and associated areas correlate with these types of cognitive dysfunction.

He said, "It is of significant clinical importance to be able to detect the early changes associated with Alzheimer's Disease and thereby enable more accurate diagnosis, as by the time dementia is currently diagnosed significant and irreversible brain damage has typically already taken place.

"Early detection could identify possible candidates for future clinical drug trials before large-scale global damage has occurred, which is essential for beneficial effects.

"Combining our new-breed, high-resolution PET scanner with MRI scanning in a single research environment allows us to compare the brain functions of MCI and probable AD patients in a unique way. Our machine also allows us to accurately measure amyloid deposition, which is not possible with standard PET scanners."

Co-supervisor Professor Alistair Burns of the University's Division of Psychiatry said: "This research is particularly timely given the recent decision by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) not to make the drug Aricept available to patients with early Alzheimer's Disease. This could result in the first judicial review against NICE which I hope will overturn this decision, and the earlier we're able to diagnose the disease the quicker we'll be able to take action against the irreversible damage it brings."

The Centre's Director Professor Karl Herholz said: "We're thrilled to be carrying out this first patient brain scan, as it represents the whole essence of the WMIC; bridging the gap between advances in the lab and their application to help patients.

"With this series of experiments we hope that a convergent approach that investigates the multiple aspects of physiology and cognition at play in AD can be developed, which will enable early accurate diagnosis and distinguish MCI patients who will progress to full AD from those who will not."

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