Dr. Kejal Kantarci, a radiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, and her team of chemists and brain surgeons have recently published findings of their work that might be the clue to screening those likely to develop some form of dementia – as much as twenty years before visible signs appear.
The report came out this week in the, and can only be accessed through a subscription. Truth be told, such an article would be well beyond the understanding of this blogger, and perhaps some of our readers.
Fortunately, Dr. Kantarci has been discussing her team’s findings with numerous outlets, including HealthDay.com.
The findings could mean early intervention by medical technology to retard or even stop the development of dementia and even Alzheimer’s disease. As Steven Reinberg reported on HealthDay.com, screening involves proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy of the brain (a specialized MRI scan), a PET scan to seek out plaques on the brain that have long been associated with Alzheimer’s, and a series of memory and language-skills tests.
What the tests revealed is that about one third of her patients (men and women in their 70s and 80s) had high levels of “brain metabolite” chemicals that coincided with their lower scores on the memory tests. Yet none of the group had any outward signs of dementia or (as yet) the amyloid-beta deposits/plaques associated with Alzheimer’s.
“We found biochemical changes that correlated with cognitive performance,” Dr. Kantarci explained. “The better people did on tests that measure cognitive abilities, the fewer changes there were.” But she also noted that her study’s findings (especially the higher metabolites) are likely markers along a road to eventual dementia, not the causes.
What might be most exciting about this research is that Dr. Kantarci and her colleagues have demonstrated the ability of current technologies to find early indicators of dementia. Thus, subsequent research can focus on ways to block the metabolites or limit the growth of the aforementioned plaques.
The human side of this story was provided by the University of Tennessee Vols’ women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt, who is the winningest coach in any US sport in history, and who went public with her recent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s (long before it has led to any notable ‘dementia’). Here is a touching interview she did with The Washington Post soon after her diagnosis at that same Mayo Clinic where Dr. Kantarci pursues her research:
Written by: Christopher Gardner, PhD