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Halifax Researchers Detect Alzheimer’s Earlier With Breakthrough Technique

After nearly 20 years of study, a group of Halifax researchers has made a world-leading breakthrough in early Alzheimer’s detection.

Dr. Ian Pottie, of Mount Saint Vincent University, Dr. Sultan Darvesh of Dalhousie University and their team have developed a new type of diagnostic agent that will hopefully advance the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

The team has developed a small radioactive molecule, which binds to a protein associated with Alzheimer-stricken brains. Basically, if the molecule binds, the person likely has Alzheimer’s disease.

The molecule can then be identified using a typical hospital brain scanner.

“It is a significant beginning because it has not been shown before using this particular enzyme as a target,” said Darvesh in a recent interview.

In early December, a new batch of tests showed the compound clearly binding to the protein target in diseased brains, a step in the right direction.

Darvesh said his team faced countless challenges during their study and “could have given up five years ago.”

Their discovery, published in “Journal of Nuclear Medicine,” should help with early detection of the disease. Darvesh said he’s had requests from people all over the world to read his paper.

“The response has been astounding.”

Darvesh said doctors can be 80- or 90-per-cent sure someone has Alzheimer’s, but never absolutely certain until the brain is examined in an autopsy.

“We are trying to develop methods in which we can make the diagnosis a little bit more accurate using current technologies.”

Nearly 750,000 Canadians are affected by some form of dementia; of which Alzheimer’s is the most common.

The next step for the team is to refine their product for human use and clinical trials, which could be in three to five years, depending on funding.

Pottie and Darvesh describe their current compound as the “economy sedan” version. They are aiming the “Formula One.”

“When you find one molecule, usually that’s your initial lead,” said Darvesh. “You have to make sure that that initial compound is properly refined so that when it goes to clinical trials in human beings, it’s the best possible molecule that we can make.

Regardless, Darvesh said the researchers planned to call it the “Halifax compound.”

The study is not cheap. A single test of each radioactive compound can cost upwards of $1,000.

Dozens of undergraduate and graduate science students at the two universities have contributed to the project over the years.