Together with McGowan Institute faculty member Steven DeKosky, MD, director of the Alzheimer Disease Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, scientists Dr. Chester Mathis, a specialist in radiopharmaceuticals, and Dr. William Klunk, associate professor of psychiatry, are collaborating with researchers around the globe on revolutionizing early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
Pittsburgh Compound B (PIB) was developed by Drs. Mathis and Klunk. It is an agent that permits visualization of pathological changes in the brain by binding to the abnormal amyloid plaque found there. This plaque is suspected of causing the memory-stealing disease. Because of PIB, researchers can see the plaque for the first time in living people vs. a confirmation only during autopsy.
“Until the development of Pittsburgh Compound B, there was no way to measure a decrease in AD plaque or possible remission of the disease,” says Dr. DeKosky. “What makes PIB remarkable is that, for the first time, doctors may be able to tell definitively if treatment is working.” Dr. DeKosky says before this discovery by Drs. Mathis and Klunk, no one was able to develop a tracer that binds to the specific abnormal protein in AD. All of the other imaging studies simply show shrinkage in parts of the brain or brain activity changes in different regions.
“For the last 20 years, we’ve talked about finding a noninvasive way to make a definite and specific diagnosis and being able to quantify the amount of plaque in the brains of people who have AD,” says Dr. DeKosky. “If we can make a specific diagnosis through imaging, then we can track the effectiveness of new drugs and other treatments. There is nothing out there right now anywhere near as direct, that can tell us definitively whether or not a drug reaction and response helps the disease.”
Researchers in Australia recently confirmed amyloid plaque’s link to AD and cite the use of PIB in determining these findings.
Illustration: Alzheimer’s Association.
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