Newswise — Doctors often have wished they could dispense with diagnostic guesswork and simply peer inside a human body to see the effects of a disease or if a particular medicine really works. Now, researchers are perfecting tools to do precisely that. In coming years, this work could vastly improve the treatment and health of patients, including those with neurodegenerative diseases or cancer. Researchers will share their progress on this new medical frontier in a symposium, "Biomarkers and PET Imaging," on Wednesday, Aug. 31, at the Washington Convention Center (Room 206), during the 230th national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C. Highlights are below:

Spotting Alzheimer's Disease Early — By the time Alzheimer's disease is suspected, amyloid plaques, one of the theorized causes of the disease, may already have done significant damage in the brain. If doctors could diagnose the disease earlier, when amyloid plaques are just beginning to form, emerging therapies might slow or even stop the disease. In pursuit of this ideal, a research team led by the University of Pittsburgh recently developed Pittsburgh compound B — a tracer molecule that highlights beta-amyloid, a telltale Alzheimer protein, in a positron emission tomography (PET) brain scan. The team has launched a 10-year population study to track beta-amyloid development in the brains of aging seniors. The researchers also hope to help establish if plaque build-up leads to cognitive decline. A University of Pittsburgh scientist describes this and other new research. (MEDI 255, 9:00 a.m.)

Picture Potential — PET biomarkers offer an emerging tool that could one day be used to evaluate virtually any type of drug acting in an intact animal or living human, scientists say. Biomarkers — an established measure of biological change — could be developed to non-invasively assess the effects of drugs on several key cellular components such as protein transporters, enzymes and receptors. In particular, researchers contend, the brain — a hard organ to biopsy with current techniques — is a prime candidate for PET imaging. A University of Michigan researcher offers an overview of how biomarkers in the brain could help doctors diagnosis, evaluate and treat Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. (MEDI 257, 10:10 a.m.)

A Speedier Trial — To design a randomized clinical trial of a new therapy, a pharmaceutical company often will recruit thousands of participants. However, success rates for some of the new, and more targeted, drugs only range from 20 percent to 60 percent of those research subjects. By using PET imaging to screen potential participants for certain biomarkers, drug makers can enrich a patient test group with individuals more likely to respond to a specific therapy being evaluated. In doing so, a clinical trial's success rate may jump, while its required number of participants drops. This targeted, accelerated drug development could usher promising therapies into the clinic sooner. A University of Washington researcher shares pilot data that illustrates how PET imaging was used to design a more effective clinical trial of a cancer therapy by characterizing and tracking a tumor in vivo. A similar technique, if taken into the clinic, might help doctors choose the most effective cancer drug for a given patient. (MEDI 259, 11:20 a.m.)

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American Chemical Society 230th National Conference