UK & World News

  • 11 December 2013, 9:37

Alzheimer's: Brain Scan Could Help Diagnosis

A brain scan which helps doctors find potential signs of Alzheimer's disease in patients is now available on the NHS for the first time.

The new diagnostic technique provides a way of detecting changes in the brain that might be symptomatic of Alzheimer's in living patients.

Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical company behind the development, announced that the first patient is to be scanned at London's Charing Cross Hospital.

Protein clumps in the brain called beta-amyloid plaques are known to be closely associated with Alzheimer's.

But until now it has not been possible to confirm their presence until a deceased patient's brain is examined.

The news comes as the Prime Minister is to call for international collaboration to urgently find a cure for dementia.

David Cameron will tell health ministers from the world's leading industrialised nations that the disease is the key medical challenge of this generation.

Only a global response can stop cases trebling worldwide by 2050, he will say.

The UK is using its presidency of the G8 to hold an unprecedented dementia summit in London.

According to the Alzheimer's Society, eight times more money is spent researching cancer than dementia.

Hannah Clack, the society's spokeswoman, said the G8summit must bring change.

"Dementia has spent a long time in the closet," she said. "It's where cancer was in the 1980s.

"This is becoming a big global problem and we need to take it to where cancer is today ... and bring hope for both those conditions."

The Government will spend 66m on dementia research next year.

But Mr Cameron will signal an ambition to double research spending by the Government, charities and drug companies by 2025.

Scientists still do not understand what causes dementia, making a cure elusive.

At St George's University of London scientists are examining slices of donated brain tissue, working on the hunch that poor blood flow causes cells to die, triggering symptoms.

Atticus Hainsworth, the neuroscientist leading the research, told Sky News there is a mountain to climb.

"We are in the foothills, barely out of the treeline," he said. "We are just discovering some of the molecules involved. But we need to know much more.

"If we know about the molecules and cells that take a brain to dementia then we can provide therapies that will improve the outcome and change the disease course."

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