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Home > Research Articles > Hope for early Alzheimer's detection

Health Media Ltd

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Health Media Ltd

Although abnormal accumulations of iron were known to be associated with many types of neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases, little was known about the exact form that this excess iron takes in the body. Recent studies suggested that some of the excess iron in neurodegenerative tissue might be in the form of magnetite.

Dr D Hautot from University College London - in collaboration with researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry in London, and Keele University in Stoke-on-Trent -used a highly sensitive technique called SQUID (superconducting quantum interference device) magnetometry to scan tissue samples for magnetite.

The researchers obtained brain tissue at autopsy from three people who had confirmed Alzheimer's disease and three who did not have the disease. The researchers looked at a region of the brain called the superior temporal gyrus, an area known to be implicated in Alzheimer's disease.

They found that concentrations of magnetite were substantially higher in the three samples of Alzheimer's disease tissue than in the three normal samples. Furthermore, the patient with the most aggressive and advanced stage of the disease at the time of death had the highest magnetite levels.

Co-author of the study, Dr Jon Dobson says although they have only examined a small number of samples the indications are positive.

"So far we have only looked at female tissue samples," he says. "One of the next steps will be to examine male samples to see if there appears to be a similar correlation."

Interestingly, a sample from one of the subjects who was thought not to have the disease revealed that the tissue did in fact show early signs of neurodegenerative disease.

This suggests, the researchers say, that measuring magnetite levels could be used to spot Alzheimer's disease before the symptoms of dementia appear.

"Looking three or four years down the line, we would hope to have enough data to develop a diagnostic tool by modifying magnetic resonance imaging scanners to look for accumulations of magnetite in patients," Dr Dobson says.

The research appears in Biology Letters, an online supplement to the Royal Society's Proceedings: Biological Sciences journal.

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(c) Health Media Ltd 2003