New PET imaging tracer helps spot signs of Alzheimer’s disease years before symptoms appear

A new positron emission tomography radiotracer has the potential to spot signs of Alzheimer’s disease years before symptoms appear.

That’s according to research presented at the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging 2021 Annual Meeting, which wraps up on Tuesday, June 15. The chemical compound 18F-MK6240 has been shown to effectively measure increases in brain tau, a protein commonly found in healthy brain neurons.

Scientists see potential in using the new tracer to test the impact of emerging Alzheimer’s therapies.

“The effectiveness of the 18F-MK6240 tracer is important for drug trials that aim to measure whether or not treatments to remove tau from the brain are actually working,” Christopher Rowe, MD, director of molecular imaging research at Austin Health and director of the Australian Dementia Network in Melbourne, Australia, said in a statement. “Use of the radiotracer will allow researchers to select people at different stages of Alzheimer’s disease for clinical trials, which ultimately may speed the development of effective treatments for the disease.”

Rowe and colleagues tested the new tracer among Alzheimer’s disease patients and a cognitively normal population. They performed a baseline PET scan on all groups, with a follow-up scan a year later, analyzing rates of tau accumulation. Longitudinal imaging proved effective at discerning between patients with and without the brain disease. And the uptake of 18F-MK6240 proved higher among Alzheimer’s patients both initially and 12 months later when compared to healthy subjects.

Read more about their experiment from SNMMI’s Journal of Nuclear Medicine here.

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