Alzheimer’s research round-up

This week, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a major partnership with pharmaceutical companies and nonprofit organizations to search for and validate biomarkers for drug development.

Among the first round of projects, which overall will represent an investment by the organizations involved of more than $230 million over five years, a major focus will be the study of Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association and USAgainstAlzheimer’s are two of the nonprofits partners in the project.

The NIH partnership was just one of several top stories in Alzheimer’s research over the past month. On Jan. 16, U.S. Alzheimer’s research received another boost to the tune of $122 million in funding as part of the Fiscal Year 2014 budget. A larger portion of that funding will be directed to the National Institute on Aging.

Shifting from funding for future research to the current medical literature, a study published online by JAMA Neurology on Jan. 27 found a link between a byproduct of the pesticide DDT and Alzheimer’s. Elevated levels of dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE) were shown to be associated with significantly worse Mini-Mental State Examination scores, and this effect was exacerbated by the presence of an apolipoprotein ε4 (APOε4) allele.

The findings led the authors to suggest that measurement of serum DDE levels along with APOE genotyping might be useful in identifying those at risk for Alzheimer’s.

The final top story in Alzheimer’s research in the last month was less encouraging, as a medical literature review published in the January issue of JAMA Internal Medicine declared the value of amyloid imaging to be uncertain.

“At present, the medical literature provides extremely limited data with which to evaluate the clinical utility of beta-amyloid PET,” wrote Steven D. Pearson, MD, from the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review in Boston, and colleagues. “There are reasonable data showing that, when read by well-trained interpreters, beta-amyloid PET is highly accurate in determining whether there is amyloid in the brain. However, the clinical utility of a positive scan result remains uncertain. If tested, approximately one-third of cognitively normal older adults would have a ‘positive’ test result for brain amyloid. Thus a positive beta-amyloid PET result is not diagnostic of [Alzheimer’s disease], nor can the test be used to accurately predict the risk or the timing of progression of mild cognitive impairment.”

Stay tuned as we continue to follow the latest research in Alzheimer’s imaging.

-Evan Godt
Editor – Health Imaging