Alzheimer's Early Detection Test Gets FDA Approval

Until now, Alzheimer's-indicating proteins could only be spotted in autopsies after death

By Sam Schulz
|  Monday, Apr 9, 2012  |  Updated 8:45 AM EDT
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Eli Lilly's new Alzheimer's detection tool Amyvid has just gotten FDA approval, raising hopes that better treatments — and maybe even a cure — for the cognitive degenerative disease might be on the way.

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A test that could better detect the early signs of Alzheimer's has just gotten FDA approval.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Friday an early-detection tool, developed by pharma giant Eli Lilly, that tags Alzheimer's-indicating proteins with a radioactive dye, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The dye, called florbetapir and branded as Amyvid, binds to clumps of amyloid proteins so they can then be spotted in PET scans of patients' brains.

A positive PET scan on a patient who has symptoms of dementia can indicate a fair number of amyloid plaques and therefore Alzheimer's.

Until the test was approved, the Journal reports, there was no way to test for the Alzheimer's-indicating plaques in patients. They could only be tested during autopsies after death.

The FDA nod came a year after the agency rejected the test, with an agency panel worrying in its recommendation that doctors might not know how to interpret the PET scans.  Lilly said it had since improved its training methods for doctors, FOX News reported.

According to the Journal, the test is only useful in people who already have symptoms consistent with Alzheimer's, because the presence of amyloid plaques alone doesn't suggest the disease.

According to one brain science professor, amyloid plaques are found in the brains of about one fifth of cognitively healthy older people during autopsies, too, in addition to the brains of those with Alzheimer's.

Scientists and doctors hope the new detection tool will contribute to advances in the study of Alzheimer's and eventually to a cure for the cognitive degenerative disease, which affects 35 million people worldwide, according to FOX.

Lilly and other drug companies are racing to find new treatments for the disease, with Lilly and Pfizer Inc. leading the pack.

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