New MRI dementia test to be trialled for first time

The effectiveness of a new method of identifying Alzheimer's disease is to be trialled for the first time by researchers at the University of Aberdeen.

While there is no cure, early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is important so patients can access the most relevant support.

A strong indicator of Alzheimer’s disease is the low ability of brain cells to use glucose. This can be measured by injecting radioactive glucose and imaging the brain with positron emission tomography (PET). However, PET both exposes patients to ionising radiation and is expensive for routine use.

A recently developed method, called Chemical Exchange Saturation Transfer (CEST), can image brain glucose using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI has no radiation exposure risk to patients.

The University of Aberdeen team will study, for the first time, if CEST can detect differences in glucose concentration between patients with Alzheimer’s disease and volunteers without symptoms of similar age. 

The study will set the foundation for future research to examine the clinical utility of the method for detecting Alzheimer’s disease very early.

MRI is safe, less costly and more widely available, therefore CEST MRI has the potential to replace PET for assessing brain glucose in patients with AD symptoms or screening those genetically at risk.

The study, funded by the Chief Scientist Office (CSO), will soon start recruitment.

Research shows that in 2019 there were over 850,000 people with dementia in the UK – which represents 1 in every 14 of the population aged 65 years and over. In 2040 it is forecast there will be over 1.5 million people with dementia in the UK.

Dr Gordon Waiter, Director of the Aberdeen Biomedical Imaging Centre at the University of Aberdeen, said: “Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Patients experience increasing problems with memory, speaking, thinking, and other activities of daily living. Most available treatments aim at controlling symptoms at early stage rather than providing a cure. Therefore, early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is important.

“Chemical Exchange Saturation Transfer is a promising new method for diagnosing this disease and this important study will give us more information about its effectiveness as a diagnostic tool. With a global reputation for excellence in MRI stretching back over 40 years, the University of Aberdeen is excellently placed to lead this trial.”