The federal Food and Drug Administration is considering a new test to determine if a patient has Alzheimer's disease.

 

An advisory committee of outside medical experts voted to support approval of a new imaging test for the disease provided doctors receive proper training in interpreting the brain scans. The non-binding recommendation will help the agency make its final decision by the end of March.

Diagnosing the disease right now is a long process filled with a series of cognitive tests.

A definitive diagnosis is possible only when an autopsy shows a buildup of amyloid plaques in the brain.

The new test will identify the plaques in living patients by injecting radioactive dye, which sticks to the plaques.  The dye shows up on a type of scan called positron emission tomography or PET.

The plaque buildup is a known risk factor for cognitive decline, but Claire Day of the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association said there's not enough information on how it relates to the disease.

“There's still a great need for more research to understand about the appropriate use of this, if any, and how it's related to the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease,” said Day.

Dr. Steven Arnold, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Memory Center, said while the test will be a helpful diagnostic tool, it will be more helpful in the future.

The tests will be "especially important when we have a medicine that can actually help prevent the accumulation of these abnormal proteins or perhaps even clear them,” he said.

About 5.3 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease. There is no cure.