This week, at Cleveland Clinic's 2010 Medical Innovation Summit, the top 10 medical breakthroughs of 2011 have been predicted, with the new brain imaging compound AV-45--which is poised to help early detection of Alzheimer's--taking the top spot.
Alzheimer's gets its name from German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer, who began lecturing in the early 1900s about the plaques and tangles he'd found in the post-mortem brain tissue of a 51-year-old patient.
To this day, diagnosing the disease while a patient is still alive is tricky, and there is still no cure. But there have been several breakthroughs in understanding how to identify the disease; elevated levels of the telltale protein tau, for instance, can appear decades before outward signs do.
After injecting the radioactive molecular imaging compound into a patient, AV-45 crosses the blood-brain barrier and binds to the beta-amyloid plaques that are also associated with Alzheimer's. PET imaging then enables physicians to see any dyed amyloid plaques and make a diagnosis.
It's thought that AV-45 can be used as a biomarker not only for diagnosing AD, but also for monitoring disease progress and drug efficacy. Once this novel compound receives its expected FDA approval in 2011, this dream could become a reality, paving the way for better ways to distinguish AD from Parkinson's disease and other types of dementia; using it as an effective method of tracking disease progression from mild cognitive impairment to late AD; and utilizing it as a key diagnostic in the development and testing of the more than 150 AD drugs presently in the pipeline.
Whether AV-45 will play the largest role in the diagnosis of Alzheimer's remains to be seen, but it represents a major advance in earlier detection of the disease.
Check out the other nine breakthroughs here.