Among the big achievements in Alzheimer’s research this year, one stands out for Jeffrey Cummings, the director of the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health: tau protein imaging. Here’s what that means, and why it’s such a big deal.
So, what exactly is tau imaging?
Of the two proteins in the brain, amyloid and tau, that are associated with Alzheimer’s, tau is the one that correlates most with declining memory. It seems to us now to be the much more malignant protein. We’ve had an amyloid scan since 2012, but right now, we don’t have such a scan for tau protein. This year, scientists made tremendous advances in getting a tau image ready, and we’re already in discussions with two different companies about doing it.
What does this mean for the Ruvo Center and our local community?
We’ll be one of the centers leading this research. The images are created using injectable dye that sticks to the proteins you want to target. The dye has to be injected within a couple of hours of being made. So any center doing these scans will have to be within a 45-minute drive or plane ride of the places that make these dyes. There are only a few of these places, and we are well positioned near one in California.
What’s the next step to make these scans widely available?
The technology will go into a trial form of research. We’ll look at correspondences between clinical diagnoses and brain imagining to make sure we’re getting reliable information. … It’s very exciting, because we’ll be able to sort out different populations of Alzheimer’s [at various stages and with various forms of the disease], and that’s critical in developing [better] drugs.