Marie Curie award for PET-MR study on Alzheimer’s disease

Marie Curie award

During the last meeting of the European Association for Nuclear Medicine, Dr. Heleen Vanhaute and Dr. Jenny Ceccarini received the prestigious Marie Curie award. The prize rewarded their recent study on prodromal Alzheimer’s disease, led by Prof. Koen Van Laere and Prof. Mathieu Vandenbulcke from KU Leuven/UZ Leuven.

Using the new PET-MR scanner, the team observed a direct link between the deposition of protein tau (indicated by PET tracer [18F]-MK6240) and loss of synaptic density (indicated by PET tracer [11C]-UCB-J) in patients with mild cognitive impairment. Compared to healthy controls, the brains of patients showed a loss of grey matter in several brain regions involved in memory and cognition. The presence of more tau deposits in neurofibrillary tangles was correlated with a lower synaptic density, and both were strongly associated with reduced performance in memory tests.

These results support a role for tau in the early pathological changes that lead to cognitive decline in prodomal Alzheimer's disease. The study is part of a larger project that investigates the spreading pattern of tau depositions over time and space across all affected brain regions. This detailed characterization will allow to better predict early phases of Alzheimer's disease and to develop and test new therapies.

The work was funded by KU Leuven, the Alzheimer Research Foundation (Stichting Alzheimer Onderzoek) and the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO).

Conference abstract: Changes in synaptic density in relation to tau deposition in prodromal Alzheimer’s disease: a dual protocol PET-MR study. H. Vanhaute, J. Ceccarini, L. Michiels, S. Sunaert, M. Koole, R. Lemmens, L. Emsell, M. Vandenbulcke, K. Van Laere. Annual Congress of the European Association for Nuclear Medicine, Barcelona, 12-16 Oct, 2019.