London - Alzheimer’s disease could be diagnosed earlier after scientists pinpointed where it starts in the brain.
The discovery means patients could benefit from starting treatment sooner.
Researchers scanned the brains of 96 pensioners and tracked their health for three-and-a-half years. None had memory problems at the start of the study but 12 had developed mild Alzheimer’s by the end.
By comparing their scans with those of the pensioners who had remained healthy, the American researchers were able to determine that the disease started in a part of the brain called the lateral entorhinal cortex, or LEC. This is the gateway to the hippocampus, the brain’s memory hub.
Researcher Scott Small, of Columbia University in New York, said: “Now that we’ve pinpointed where Alzheimer’s starts, and shown that these changes are observable, we may be able to detect Alzheimer’s at its earliest pre-clinical stage, when the disease might be more treatable and before it spreads to other brain regions.”
The study, detailed in the journal Nature Neuroscience, also revealed how the disease spreads through the brain, including to regions involved in spatial orientation and navigation.
Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affect more than 800 000 Britons. The number of sufferers worldwide is predicted to treble to 44 million by 2050 as populations age.
David Cameron has described dementia as “the key health challenge of this generation”.
Hosting a G8 summit on the disease earlier this month, the prime minister said: “It doesn’t matter whether you’re in London or Los Angeles, in rural India or urban Japan – this disease steals lives, it wrecks families, it breaks hearts, and that is why all of us here are so utterly determined to beat it.”
He also said that a cure for dementia or a drug that can halt the disease in its tracks would be available by 2025.
Given early enough – a prospect raised by the latest study – such a drug could prevent people ever developing the disease.
However, in an open letter to the Government, a group of leading doctors said the battle against dementia should focus on a healthy lifestyle, including a Mediterranean diet, rather than “dubious” drugs. - Daily Mail