JOHNSON CITY (February 22, 2013) – A professor of psychiatry at East Tennessee State University’s James H. Quillen College of Medicine is a collaborator on a groundbreaking study that yielded the first medical test to support the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in a living patient.
Dr. Norman C. Moore, who is director of research for the ETSU Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, is among 22 researchers from around the nation who confirmed this new diagnostic test, which uses a radiopharmaceutical known as Florbetapir to produce a positron emission tomography (PET) scan. Previously, a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease could only be made with a postmortem examination of the brain.
Results of the study were published in The Lancet Neurology, a specialty publication of The Lancet, widely regarded as one of the leading medical journals in the world. In addition to ETSU, other research centers that collaborated on the study include Duke University, the University of California-Irvine and Medical University of South Carolina.
Moore has devoted much of his research to understanding Alzheimer’s and searching for treatments for this disorder that causes dementia, which adversely affects memory, thinking and behavior. There is no cure for Alzheimer’s; currently prescribed drugs can only slow progression of the disease. It primarily strikes the elderly, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 5 million older Americans are living with Alzheimer’s.
A diagnostic test for it is a notable advancement on at least two fronts, Moore said.
“A patient who has symptoms of Alzheimer’s may not actually have the disease,” Moore said. “Of every 100 patients who are told they likely have Alzheimer’s, about 20 don’t actually have it. Patients who think they have Alzheimer’s will be relieved to know they don’t, and they may have another memory disorder that is treatable.
“Research will also advance because samples of patients being studied will be more likely to have Alzheimer’s.”
In the study, Moore injected patients thought to have Alzheimer’s with Florbetapir, which binds to “plaque” and emits a signal which is converted to an image of the brain. The PET scan reveals the amount, location and density of this plaque, which is a biologic signature of the disease.
“We all develop some plaque as we get older, usually after the age of 40,” Moore said. “With Alzheimer’s, there are greater amounts of plaque, located in certain areas of the brain. An Alzheimer’s patient, age 50, will have a brain that looks more like that of a 90-year-old.”
Florbetapir is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and a PET scan is a common diagnostic tool that uses nuclear medical imaging to produce three-dimensional images of processes inside the body.
Participants in Moore’s study underwent a PET scan at Precision Nuclear LLC, located in Gray. Moore’s colleague in the study was Scott Holbrook, a certified nuclear medicine technologist who works in Research and Development at Precision Nuclear. That imaging facility maintains a cyclotron, a sophisticated device that is needed to create the biochemical substances, called radioligands, which are measured by the PET scan to enable diagnosis.
The test for Alzheimer’s will soon be available locally, Moore said, and the cost ranges from $3,000-$5,000. Terms of coverage for the diagnostic test vary according to an individual’s health insurance company, and Florbetapir testing is not yet covered by Medicare.
“I’m hopeful that in the future, Medicare and medical insurance will cover the cost of this test, because it could be of great benefit to individuals who may have Alzheimer’s, as well as their families,” Moore said.