Is it possible that we in a few years will have access to a new diagnostic method to identify Alzheimer’s disease at an early stage? This incurable, neurodegenerative disorder that in 2009 affected over 35 million people is one of the most complex diseases in the world today. By 2050 it is estimated that the disease will affect over 115 million people worldwide. The need for fast, accurate diagnosis – at an early stage – is therefore virtually invaluable.
Currently, the only definitive way to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease is through molecular studies on the deceased patient’s brain. There is no cure, only symptom relieving pharmaceuticals. However, there has been some progress made in recent years.
“It is possible that we in the near future can present a unique method of diagnosis and a new pharmaceutical treatment based on PET, Positron – Emission Tomography”, says Dr. Dan Peters, CEO and founder of DanPET in Malmö, Sweden.
Dan Peters spent over 20 years at NeuroSearch, working closely with Managing Director Dr. Jörgen Buus Lassen. Work that later on inspired Dr. Peters to found a research center focusing on PET technology – and collaboration.
“If there is something that I have learnt during my career, it is that collaboration is the key to success. Therefore, I strive to extend my collaborative network at any given opportunity”.
The use of PET ligands will increase
The use of PET diagnostics provides a functional image of the brain to guide treatment and assist in decision making regarding possible treatment. To obtain the specific information, a number of known PET ligands, biologically active molecules that act as biomarkers, are required.
Dan Peters predicts that the use of PET ligands will increase greatly as part of the development of better diagnostic tools – and in the future even possible treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. He explains:
“The so called EVP- 6124, currently in Phase III clinical trials, is a selective 7 nicotinic agonist developed by the company EnVivo for long-term treatment to restore and improve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s disease. At DanPET, we have developed 7 nicotinic PET ligands that have met the desired requirements in several preclinical testing. We have also identified preclinical drug candidates using the same mechanism”.
Collaboration is the key
Medical student Linnea Nilsson, University of Edinburgh, completed a summer project at DanPET last year. Her work focused on comparing the two hypotheses of amyloid-β cascade and the α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (α7 nAChR) deficiency as applied in the development of diagnostics and treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, along with their relation to causality of the disease.
“This is a good example of how collaboration is the key to innovative progress. To involve the next generation of researchers is also incredibly important for the development of knowledge and to ensure continuity in the long term building of knowledge”, says Dan Peters.
PET technology is both technically and medically innovative as it provides knowledge of the functional processes inside the body. This makes PET, in many respects, superior to other techniques such as traditional X-ray or MRI.
The latter techniques are solely based on anatomical differences and do not consider differences in the function of the tissue being studied. Therefore, PET technology is specifically suitable for obtaining a diagnosis at the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.