- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A new test may help scientists answer a perplexing “which-came-first” question about the development of Alzheimer’s disease, possibly pointing the way to earlier diagnosis or even treatment.

Brain deposits of a small protein known as amyloid beta long have been associated with Alzheimer’s. But scientists have been unable to determine whether the body begins producing too much of the protein or loses the ability to clear it away.

A research team led by Dr. Randall J. Bateman at Washington University in St. Louis is poised to find that answer with a test that, for the first time, can monitor the protein.

An initial test of the new technique on six healthy volunteers determined that the protein is quickly produced and quickly cleared, keeping it in balance in the central nervous system, the researchers report in today’s online issue of the journal Nature Medicine.

Indeed, it turned out that the protein, also known as Abeta, is produced faster than any other protein measured before, Dr. Bateman said.

That was unexpected. Because the brain-wasting disease takes so long to develop, many specialists had assumed that the production rate for the protein was very slow.

Dr. Bateman is turning to people with Alzheimer’s in an effort to determine whether increased production or decreased clearance of Abeta is a source of the disease.

“The paper describes an extremely interesting and potentially important advance,” said Dr. Samuel Gandy of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

“This method is light-years ahead of any existing technology for approaching the issue,” said Dr. Gandy, who was not part of the research team.

He said the challenge is finding clues to the developing disease before symptoms begin to appear. For now, Dr. Gandy said, the new test “is much more likely to be useful as a research tool than as a clinical diagnostic test.”

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