Alzheimer’s is, unfortunately, an incurable disease. On the front page of today’s print edition of the New York Times, Gina Kolata reports on a new test that would enable doctors to image the characteristic plaques in the brain and, thereby, facilitate the diagnosis in people who are wondering if they have this condition. The news article includes pretty images, front and center in my browser window.

The discussion centers on a not-yet-FDA-reviewed test promoted by a biotech company, Avid Radiopharmaceuticals (Philadelphia, PA). The experimental method depends on using PET scans (radiation dose estimate 14.1 mSv, Health Physics Society fact sheet) using a radioisotope (fluoride-18)-conjugated dye (Avid, in collaboration with Bayer and GE).

Among my hundred questions about this enterprise – notwithstanding the ethics of performing clinical trials in hospice patients, as is related in the Times article – is this: does the dye harm the kidneys? (No mention in the article.)

As for how much it costs, that’s not said either. Because Alzheimer’s is a fairly common disease and memory loss an even commoner condition, the potential demand for this marketable diagnostic method might be great.

What are we thinking?

Unlike Alzheimer’s, breast cancer is a highly-treatable disease. The cure rate for cases detected in stage I is over 95 percent, and for stage II it’s well-above 85 percent. These results apply to all women with breast cancer, including those in their forties and fifties.

Metastatic breast cancer remains incurable as I write this morning. Finding it early is crucial. About Alzheimer’s, I’m not so sure.

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