Alzheimer’s Insights: New Brain Scan Technique Helps Predict Alzheimer’s

Published 12:15 pm Saturday, January 25, 2020

Remember in the TV show “Star Trek” how Dr. McCoy could simply scan someone with a handheld device and get a diagnosis?   We’re not there yet, but a new brain-scanning technique is giving researchers more clues into Alzheimer’s disease.

It’s now possible to predict with some degree of accuracy where in the brain areas will decrease due to Alzheimer’s disease, simply by identifying where tangles of tau protein have gathered.

Tau proteins are crucial to the development and stabilization of what’s called “microtubules” which are essential to healthy brain and body function.  When tau proteins lump together in what’s commonly referred to as a “tangle” they become irreversibly stuck, destroying neurons and their connections.

The latest information backs up theories that toxic tau proteins are a major mover in Alzheimer’s brain degeneration.

More accurate brain scans let doctors predict how Alzheimer’s will behave – for instance, seeing that the area of the brain controlling speech has more tau tangles.

The secret behind the enhanced scan is a new injectable molecular level “dye” that sticks to tau tangles in the brain.  It’s then tracked by a mild radioactive signal it puts out that can be discerned by PET scanners.

Researchers are hopeful that new drugs aimed at tau tangles will be able to help Alzheimer’s patients. 

The new study was published in the Jan. 1 issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine.

If you have a question about Alzheimer’s disease, you can always call the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900 for more information. 

The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support, and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research, to provide and enhance care and support for all affected, and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s®. For more information, visit or call the 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900.


Scott Finley is Media Relations Manager for the Alzheimer’s Association® in Texas.  He can be reached at