Beginning next month, doctors can use a brain scan to better diagnose Alzheimer's. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved a fluorescent dye that binds to amyloid plaques, a physical hallmark of the disease, as a diagnostic tool.
Currently, doctors cannot be certain whether or not a patient's brain is riddled with amyloid plaques until after the patient's death. But now, clinicians can use a weakly radioactive dye to search for the presence of plaques in a living patient. The dye binds to the starchy amyloid that builds up in the brains of Alzheimer's patients and can be visualized in a PET scan. The FDA approved the scan as a method for estimating plaque content in the brains of people exhibiting cognitive decline. The presence or absence of plaques in a patient with forgetfulness, confusion, or other signs of neurological trouble could help doctors with their diagnoses.