Researchers in Hong Kong claim to have discovered a new method to detect Alzheimer's disease early, even when symptoms aren't yet apparent. They say that it could identify the condition up to a decade before presenting symptoms such as memory loss appear.

Dr. Kannie Chan Wai-yan, a co-leader of the research team and an associate professor at City University's biomedical engineering department, used MRI scanning to trace glucose injected into the brains of mice in their new approach to discover Alzheimer's. According to the authors, the slow absorption and processing rate of the sugar meant that there were signs of Alzheimer's.

She added that it was initially difficult to diagnose early signs of Alzheimer's since many of its clinical symptoms were similar to other typical signs of aging. Additionally, Dr. Chan Wai-yan said that the disease's actual symptoms only surfaced long after the brain had started to degenerate. By the time the brain shows significant changes, the condition was usually already in its mid to late stages of advancement, she said.

Chan Wai-yan said that early indicators of the condition could rely on the changes of the brain at the molecular level, particularly the difference in how glucose molecules were processed. In clinical trials involving mice with Alzheimer's, the conversion rate of glucose in the glymphatic system was generally slower than those of healthy mice.

Preparations for human trials are already being done with volunteers, and the researchers hope that trials could commence in the next three years. In the experiment, the subjects would be scanned using the MRI machine for original records, then would be given glucose, followed by a second scan to track the changes in the brain.

The current method used to track glucose distribution in the brain involves injecting patients with radioactive tracers and then scanned using the PET machine. This traditional method, however, is invasive, costly, and comes with side effects.

Dr. Chan Wai-yan hopes that once their method becomes approved for human use, it could be integrated into annual check-ups for senior citizens aged 60 and above.

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Losing Your Memory with Alzheimer's

According to the National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer's disease is a progressive and irreversible brain disorder that slowly destroys one's memory and thinking capabilities. Eventually, patients with Alzheimer's will have difficulty doing even the simplest tasks, such as combing their hair or putting on their shoes.

Majority of people with the disease first experience symptoms in their mid-60s. Early-onset Alzheimer's is rare and appears most likely when a person is in their 30s and mid-60s. Alzheimer's disease is a prevalent cause of dementia among older adults.

As of now, there is no known treatment for Alzheimer's disease. Clinical management of the disease comes in forms of drugs and managing behavioral changes.

According to Dr. Chan Wai-yan, people possessing a gene called apolipoprotein E (APOE) puts them at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's. These patients could take the test at an earlier age if the gene is detected early.

Furthermore, she said that if the disease had already reached an advanced stage, the patient would have already lost a lot of neurons and most likely would not have the ability to take care of themselves anymore. Moreover, if a test could detect the disease ten to 20 years in advance, medical professionals could intervene much earlier and make a huge difference in the effectiveness of therapy.

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