PET Scans Reveal New Breakthrough in Alzheimer’s Disease

After talking about Science and Culpability, specifically brain imaging, an article immediately grabbed my attention regarding new advances in PET scans.  Like we discussed in class, PET Scans produce 3D color images used to measure how the brain is functioning.  The researcher injects a substance into the body that causes different areas of the brain to “light up” depending on activity level.

A recent Alzheimer’s pathology study detected a protein called Tau that could be a breakthrough for Alzheimer’s patients.

According to a Forbes article, several earlier methods have targeted amyloid-beta, or plaques, which are a key indicator of the Alzheimer’s, but this new research highlights a new protein, Tau, in the brain’s hippocampus. Scientists feel that “using PET scans to visualize what’s going on in the brain may be a complement to amyloid-beta imaging, and one day help diagnose the disease very early on – before symptoms even occur.” In addition, these PET scans that track Tau can be visualized very early on in the disease, unlike old technology that could only really visualize the problems in the brain late in the disease or after death.

In a legal context, PET scans that detect Alzheimer’s and dementia could be beneficial for lawyers in will contest cases. If admitted into evidence, these scans would help prove or challenge capacity of the client. Since the testator of an estate only has to have mental capacity at the time he/she signs the will, it is often one of the main elements argued in court. These brain scans could be used to provide evidence of the stage of Alzheimer’s disease by comparing the amount of Tau on different pictures of the patient/client on different days.

However these medical advances in brain imaging do not come without problems. As we discussed in class, although a useful tool for lawyers and judges, PET scans can also have negative effects like human error, difficulty in understanding and interpreting the scan, problems of admissibility into evidence, and jury confusion when interpreting the scan.

Hopefully new advances in technology will continue to increase the reliability and reliance on brain imaging so the scans can be used as a helpful tool in court.

Additional sources include:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-24142691

http://www.alz.org/research/science/earlier_alzheimers_diagnosis.asp

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2 thoughts on “PET Scans Reveal New Breakthrough in Alzheimer’s Disease

  1. I studied amyloid-beta and neurofibrillary tangles in an Alzheimer’s lab at the Mayo Clinic back in the early 2000s. This sucess story in imaging will hopefully also help guide researchers to effective treatment options. As you suggest, lawyers should be cautious about how they using neuro-imaging technology in court–or at least judges should be cautious as to how they allow it to be used–but as we’ve learned, caution isn’t always the course that’s followed. It will be interesting to watch how neuro-imaging in this context, and in other legal contexts, develop as the science progresses.

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