The applications of Nuclear Medicine to neurodegenerative disorders – a guide to understanding how Nuclear Medicine can help with brain disease diagnosis and treatment.
by Brigitte Lipschutz, PhD & Anne-Catherine Thomas, MD.
The different Nuclear Medicine techniques, such as PET and SPECT, use a radioactive substance (called a tracer). Various tracers can be used. According to which tracer is used, we can look at different aspects of brain activity. How does the blood flow? How much oxygen and glucose (sugar) is consumed in different brain regions?
Below are the three most common applications in Neurology:
Alzheimer's Disease is a disease that destroys brain cells affecting memory, thinking, language and behavior. The use of Nuclear Medicine in combination with other tests allows for an early diagnostic. Detecting the disease early means the patient starts taking drugs early. This slows down the damage done by the disease.
In Parkinson's Disease, some brain cells of the motor pathways, called the dopaminergic cells, are destroyed. Because analogous symptoms can appear in other similar diseases, it is often difficult to diagnose based only on physical symptoms. Using a tracer resembling dopamine, Nuclear Medicine can help making an accurate and early diagnosis. Depending on results, the patient is administered different medical treatments.
Epileptic patients suffer from seizures caused by abnormal electrical activity of certain cells in the brain. Most patients can take medication to reduce the frequency and severity of their seizures. For some patients, the medication doesn’t work; they need an operation. Finding the exact location of the seizure focus is critical. This is done by looking at the glucose (sugar) consumption in the brain. The area of the seizure will use more of it!