Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lily just got FDA approval on a chemical that would enable clinicians to detect a biological marker for Alzheimer’s disease. They can detect the marker now, but currently quantifying it can only be performed during autopsy. Detecting it early, during a person’s lifetime has the potential to not only identify people at risk for Alzheimer’s before they show symptoms, but it could help researchers searching for a cure.
The chemical, called florbetapir or its brand name Amyvid, binds to the protein, beta-amyloid, thought to be a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. The drug, which is radioactive, is injected into patients which are then imaged with a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan that detects the radioactive signal. A positive scan means there are at least a moderate amount of amyloid plaques, the aggregates of amyloid protein thought to disrupt neuronal function and lead to cognitive decline and dementia associated with Alzheimer’s disease.