"Dr. Skovronsky thought he had a way to make scans work. He and his team had developed a dye that could get into the brain and stick to plaque. They labeled the dye with a commonly used radioactive tracer and used a PET scanner to directly see plaque in a living person’s brain. But the technology and the dye itself were so new they had to be rigorously tested.

And that is what brought Dr. Skovronsky, a thin and eager-looking 37-year-old, to his e-mail that recent day. 

Five years ago, Dr. Skovronsky, who named his company Avid in part because that is what he is, had taken a big personal and professional gamble. He left academia and formed Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, based in Philadelphia, to develop his radioactive dye and designed a study with hospice patients to prove it worked. 

Hospice patients were going to die soon and so, he reasoned, why not ask them to have scans and then brain autopsies afterward to see if the scans showed just what a pathologist would see. Some patients would be demented, others not. 

Some predicted his study would be impossible, if not unethical. But the F.D.A. said it wanted proof that the plaque on PET scans was the same as plaque in a brain autopsy."

Source: NY Times

If you haven't already read the article in the NY Times, click on the link above and check it out. It's well worth reading. How many of us have elderly parents who have Alzheimer's, who sadly died from the devastating condition or know friends going through the trials and tribulations as caregivers?

I love this story – a scientist gets germ of an idea, is convinced it will work, leaves his employment and sets up a company (Avid Radiopharmaceuticals) to research the possibilities. That's the very entrepreneurial spirit that made America great.

Basically, the concept is that using a special dye to highlight the plaques would show up on brain scans in Alzheimer's patients.  At moment, the only known way of showing proof of the disease is when a pathologist looks for the black specks of plaques in the brain during a post mortem.  Finding a way to be sure that the disease exists earlier has proven elusive so far.  In the NY Times article, they showed what Dr Skovronsky has found so far.  You can see the plaque buildup (red) in Alzheimers on the bottom compared to someone who did not have the disease:

image from graphics8.nytimes.com
Source: Dr Skovronsky in the NY Times 

If the results prove conclusive and the dye gets FDA approval, researchers will have the first reliable method of detecting the disease early and also a potential marker of determining whether any future therapies are having an impact in reducing the plaques.

The data is being presented next month at the Alzheimer's Association so there is bound to be a lot of excitement and anticipation surrounding the data.  This is the sort of thing we scientists get excited about, even if it's not in our field.  My first thoughts on reading the NY Times were, "A dye? Wow, I wish I had thought of that!"  I got goosebumps just reading it.  

Of course there is a long way to go, but let's hope for the future of new drugs in the pipeline that the dye will turn out to be a great marker and the tide turns on future development of better and earlier pharmaceutical intervention for a devastating disease.