Update on Alzheimer’s Disease Research

On Friday, November 15, 2013, our newly expanded elder law office co-sponsored a presentation with the Alzheimer’s Association on Alzheimer’s research.  Dr. Carol Lippa, a neurologist and director of the Drexel University College of Medicine Clinical Memory Disorders Program, presented on the current advances in Alzheimer’s research and treatment.

One of the most interesting topics discussed by Dr. Lippa was the power of brain imaging tests to detect amyloid beta protein in the brain, one of the main hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease pathology.

According to Dr. Lippa, Positron Emission Tomography (PET) imaging tests can identify amyloid beta deposits in the brain by using imaging agents that are introduced into the brain through the bloodstream. These imaging agents bind to amyloid beta plaques in the brain, allowing for a generally accurate measure of amyloid beta “load” or “burden” in the patient’s brain – the higher the amyloid burden, the higher the probability of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, in combination with other measures that confirms memory impairment.

Unfortunately, the PET imaging test is expensive; costing approximately $3,000.00, therefore the out of pocket expense will be an impediment to widespread use.  Recently, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency that runs Medicare, in September determined that there was insufficient evidence that this type of radioactive imaging test “is reasonable and necessary” for diagnosing and helping treat dementia.

CMS said it would consider coverage for the test only in limited circumstances: for clinical trials that must be approved in advance by the agency.  CMS’ decision has disappointed Alzheimer’s advocates who believe there is ample evidence to show that a PET scan is both a “reasonable and necessary” Alzheimer’s diagnostic tool.  Early diagnosis, according to advocates, will lead to reduced health care costs.

However, even having such a debate is a step in the right direction.  Hopefully, in the near future, the continued clinical trials on PET scans will result in CMS approval.

You can learn more about the Drexel University College of Medicine Clinical Memory Disorders Program by going to http://www.drexelmedicine.org/patient-services/neurology/services/memory-disorders.  To learn more about Alzheimer’s disease clinical trials go to http://www.alz.org/research/overview.asp.

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