Pet Imaging And Alzheimer's Disease Essay

1971 words - 8 pages

Alzheimer’s Disease is an irreversible, degenerative brain disease that is marked by the build up of plaque and tangles in the neurons of Alzheimer’s patients, which induce memory loss and inhibit mental functions. Estimates vary, but experts believe as many as 5.1 million Americans are currently suffering from Alzheimer’s (Alzheimer’s Fact Sheet). Although there is no cure for the disease, early detection of Alzheimer’s is crucial because it allows the patient to immediately begin a drug regimen that slows the process of the disease. In modern medicine, two types of PET imaging, fluorodeoxyglucose and amyloid, are the most effective methods of diagnosing Alzheimer’s Disease.
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Medication for the treatment of Alzheimer’s can slow the process of cell death and subsequent brain tissue loss by regulating chemical messengers in the brain that are important for cell memory. Cholinesterase inhibitors are one such class of drug, which prevents the breakdown of acetylcholine (Alzheimer’s Association), a critical neurotransmitter involved in the initial formation of memory (Animal Behavior Online). Cholinesterase inhibitors are generally prescribed for patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s because they are most effective at reducing the speed of cell death (Alzheimer’s Association). As the disease progresses, the brain produces less acetylcholine, so cholinesterase inhibitors eventually lose their effect (Alzheimer’s Medication Fact Sheet). For patients with severe Alzheimer’s, doctors recommend a different type of drug. A medication called memantine regulates the activity of glutamate, a different neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory (Alzheimer’s Association). Memantine works in much the same way as cholinesterase inhibitors, but has generally more severe side effects, so it is reserved for the final stages of Alzheimer’s.
PET imaging can diagnose Alzheimer’s earlier than conventional methods and, therefore, can maximize the amount of time cholinesterase inhibitors are effective for the patient. This is important because it provides the patient with considerably more time to prepare logistically, financially, and psychologically for the future. Patients who are diagnosed in the earliest stages of disease by PET imaging are afforded comfort, dignity, and independence for longer periods of time than patients who are diagnosed by clinical methods like memory tests or urine screenings.
Positron emitting tomography (PET) imaging is the most effective neuroimaging method used in screening for Alzheimer’s Disease. PET imaging is a type of nuclear medicine. The patient ingests or is injected intravenously with a small amount of radioactive material called a radiotracer that accumulates in the part of the body being examined (Radiology Info). For Alzheimer’s patients, the radiotracer gathers in the brain and gives off gamma rays. These rays are detected by the PET scanner and used to produce an image. The radiotracer used in a PET scan can vary based on what kind of activity is being examined. For example, there are two types of radiotracers commonly used to diagnose Alzheimer’s. One measures the relative amount of metabolic activity in the brain, and the other determines the amount of beta amyloid present between the neurons. Even though these two types of PET imaging use different radiotracers, they can both reliably diagnose Alzheimer’s.
Standard FDG-PET scans assess brain activity by measuring the amount of glucose taken up by the brain in proportion to the metabolic activity. Fluorodeoxyglucose, abbreviated FDG, combines a radionuclide that has a measurable level of radioactivity with a glucose substrate...

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