Alzheimer's disease afflicts approximately 5 million Americans, including half or all individuals over the age of 85. By age 65, approximately 5% of the population suffers from the irreversible memory loss, compromised organizational skills and the personality alteration that characterize this disorder.
The development of Alzheimer's disease appears to relate to the excessive accumulation in the brain of amyloid beta protein and of tau protein. The abnormal deposition of these proteins is associated with impaired brain neuronal function, and with the early death of nerve cells that support memory and our normal "executive" organizational behavioral capabilities.
Although patient symptomatology and MR imaging studies do now support the diagnosis of "probable" Alzheimer's disease, a "definite" diagnosis currently depends on the microscopic study of brain tissue that is obtained either through a surgical biopsy or at the time of autopsy.
The absence of a specific, safe, readily available, inexpensive diagnostic procedure has, for the individual patient, significantly compromised the availability of either an early diagnosis, or the anxiety-relieving exclusion of this devastating disorder. The absence of such a test has also compromised our ability to accurately characterize fundamental tissue changes that are thought to be associated with the progression of this disorder.
For society as a whole, the absence of a definitive diagnostic procedure has greater consequence. There is simply no method available to directly measure the effectiveness of medications that are being developed for the treatment of this disorder, either in human subjects or in any of several existing Alzheimer's disease laboratory models.
At the UC Davis Center for Biophotonics, Science and Technology, research scientists are completing the development of a novel non-invasive, harmless laser-based technique to quantitatively characterize the presence and the quantity of the abnormal proteins that are deposited in the brain of people with Alzheimer's disease. Interestingly this technique can be applied to other neurodegenerative disorders as well. The method will be painless, safe and readily usable, both in human subjects and in research efforts that utilize human and laboratory models of Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative disorders.
To promote the timely advancement of this critical developmental effort, project support in the amount of $200,000 is urgently needed.
Jim Brunberg, MD
Chair, Department of Radiology
UCDavis Medical Center