New PET tau tracer outperforms established MRI measures
Michael Schöll, Associate Professor at the Wallenberg Centre for Molecular and Translational Medicine at the University of Gothenburg and MedTech West, is co-author of the article “Discriminative Accuracy of [18F]flortaucipir Positron Emission Tomography for Alzheimer Disease vs Other Neurodegenerative Disorders“, published in JAMA in September, 2018.
To diagnose Alzheimer’s disease reliably is still a challenge. There are two proteins that have a known connection to Alzheimer’s disease – beta-amyloid that forms plaques in the brain, and tau which accumulates inside the brain’s cells. Beta-amyloid occurs decades before the patient is aware of the disease. Tau, on the other hand, might occur later. However, much suggests that the spread of tau in the brain correlates better with the patient’s symptoms than beta-amyloid.
The novel method described in this publication shows the aggregation of pathologic forms of tau, which can be found in Alzheimer’s disease patients, but also other neurodegenerative diseases. Swedish researchers at Lund University, together with colleagues in South Korea, the United States, and the Netherlands, have now been able to distinguish Alzheimer’s disease from other neurodegenerative diseases using information about the distribution of tau in the respective diseases derived from positron emission tomography (PET). The study showed that up to 95 percent of all Alzheimer’s disease cases were diagnosed correctly by tau PET. The method also showed greater diagnostic accuracy than established magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) measurements, and fewer false positive results than beta-amyloid PET – two methods used clinically today.
The study involved data from over 700 individuals recruited from memory clinics in three countries. These included patients with Alzheimer’s disease, a group of patients with other neurodegenerative diseases, individuals with mild cognitive impairment who had not yet developed dementia, and a group of healthy controls.
If PET tracers for imaging tau are approved for clinical use, they can potentially be of great use supporting the clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.