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Test developed to record onset of Alzheimer's disease

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles said they have created the first test that records the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

The test, which identifies lesions associated with Alzheimer's in a person's brain, could improve early diagnosis and lead to more effective treatment, said Dr. Stephen Bartels, president of the American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry.

"This is a huge step forward in getting a jump on the disease before it progresses to cause brain impairment," Bartels said of the test, reported in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Alzheimer's, a degenerative brain disease that causes memory loss, disorientation, depression and decay of bodily functions, affects an estimated 4 million Americans.

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The disease often begins with memory lapses and advances to dementia. People with advanced cases require constant care and lose the ability to recognize even their loved ones.

The UCLA discovery means patients will be able to undergo a noninvasive test that includes a PET scan and the injection of a chemical tracer, which identifies the brain lesions linked to the disease.

"Find these tiny lesions, and you will likely find the disease," said Dr. Jorge Barrio, who led the UCLA research team.

The accuracy of current diagnostic tests can be as low as 55 percent compared with autopsy results, he added.

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