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UCLA announces first method for measuring early signs of Alzheimer’s

(Thinkstock)
(Thinkstock)

After six years of research, a UCLA-led team today announced the first standardized protocol for measuring one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease — the atrophy of the part of the brain known as the hippocampus.

The finding marks the final step in an international consortium’s effort to develop a unified and reliable approach to assessing signs of Alzheimer’s- related neurodegeneration through structural imaging tests, a staple in the diagnosis and monitoring of the disease, according to UCLA.

The study is published in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

Using brain tissue of deceased Alzheimer’s disease patients, a group headed by Dr. Liana Apostolova, director of the neuroimaging laboratory at the Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research at UCLA, confirmed that the new method for measuring hippocampal atrophy correlates with the pathologic changes that are known to be hallmarks of the disease.

“This hippocampal protocol will now become the gold standard in the field, adopted by many if not all research groups across the globe in their study of Alzheimer’s disease,” Apostolova said. “It will serve as a powerful tool in clinical trials for measuring the efficacy of new drugs in slowing or halting disease progression.”

The brain is the least accessible and most challenging organ to study in the human body; as a result, Alzheimer’s disease can be diagnosed definitively only by examining brain tissue after death. In living patients, physicians diagnose Alzheimer’s by evaluating other health factors, known as biomarkers, in combination with memory loss and other cognitive symptoms.

The hippocampus is a small region of the brain that is associated with memory formation, and memory loss is the earliest clinical feature of Alzheimer’s disease. Its shrinkage or atrophy, as determined by a structural MRI exam, is a biomarker for the disease and is commonly used in both clinical and research settings to diagnose the disease and monitor its progression.

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