Alzheimer's patient volunteers for first scan

The University of Manchester’s Wolfson Molecular Imaging Centre will carry out its first positron emission tomography (PET) brain scan on a patient volunteer this Friday (24 November 2006) at 10.00.

The £22million Centre houses amongst the world’s most advanced brain and body scanners, and its High Resolution Research Tomograph (HRRT) brain scanner is unique in the UK and one of only 14 worldwide. It is the highest resolution clinical PET camera in the world and, unlike conventional MRI and CT scanners, allows doctors and researchers to see how the brain functions and its metabolism at work.

After five years’ development, the Centre’s team has now achieved the stringent regulatory standards necessary to allow operational activities to begin. A 77 year-old former RAF pilot and air traffic controller from Bowden in Cheshire has volunteered to be the first patient through the brain scanner, as part of a study of early Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).

Researcher Stephen Carter of the School of Psychological Sciences is investigating the transition from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to early AD, as MCI is often considered a precursor of Alzheimer’s*.

He will examine the physiological factors and mental processes at work during this transition, and hopes to determine whether reduced consumption of glucose in the brain is more closely linked to cognitive impairment than the deposition of the protein amyloid, which many believe to be the cause of AD.

The high-tech scans will also allow him to assess whether changes in connectivity between the part of the brain responsible for memory - the medial temporal lobe - and associated areas correlate with these types of cognitive dysfunction.

He said, “It is of significant clinical importance to be able to detect the early changes associated with Alzheimer’s Disease and thereby enable more accurate diagnosis, as by the time dementia is currently diagnosed significant and irreversible brain damage has typically already taken place.

“Early detection could identify possible candidates for future clinical drug trials before large-scale global damage has occurred, which is essential for beneficial effects.

“Combining our new-breed, high-resolution PET scanner with MRI scanning in a single research environment allows us to compare the brain functions of MCI and probable AD patients in a unique way. Our machine also allows us to accurately measure amyloid deposition, which is not possible with standard PET scanners.”

Co-supervisor Professor Alistair Burns of the University’s Division of Psychiatry said: “This research is particularly timely given the recent decision by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) not to make the drug Aricept available to patients with early Alzheimer’s Disease. This could result in the first judicial review against NICE which I hope will overturn this decision, and the earlier we’re able to diagnose the disease the quicker we’ll be able to take action against the irreversible damage it brings.”

The Centre’s Director Professor Karl Herholz said: “We’re thrilled to be carrying out this first patient brain scan, as it represents the whole essence of the WMIC; bridging the gap between advances in the lab and their application to help patients.

“With this series of experiments we hope that a convergent approach that investigates the multiple aspects of physiology and cognition at play in AD can be developed, which will enable early accurate diagnosis and distinguish MCI patients who will progress to full AD from those who will not.”


For more information or to arrange filming, photography or interviews with the volunteer (who wishes to be known just as Ronald), Stephen Carter, Professor Burns or Co-supervisor Professor Matt Lambon-Ralph (School of Psychological Sciences) or Professor Herholz, please contact:

Mikaela Sitford: 0161 275 2111/[email protected] (Weds – Fri).

Notes for Editors

*Not all patients diagnosed with MCI progress to a clinical diagnosis of AD.

How it works: The WMIC’s ( state-of-the-art equipment and distinctive interdisciplinary approach allow cutting-edge PET scanning techniques to be applied to the study of cancer, neurology and psychiatric conditions.

Its Cyclotron generates short-lived radioactive isotopes or ‘tracers’ to be attached to molecules researchers want to trace in the body, very small amounts of the tracers are then injected into a volunteer patient’s blood stream after stringent quality controls. The molecules emit positrons which are detected by the high-resolution scanners, allowing computers to produce sophisticated 3D images.

The WMIC was established with initial funding from research sponsors and charitable and commercial organisations, including The Wolfson Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the MRC, the EPSRC, the NWDA, the ERDF, Children with Leukaemia and a number of significant individuals.

Its research is organised into Oncology (led by Principle Clinical Scientist Professor Pat Price), Psychiatry (led by Dr Peter Talbot) and Professor Herholz’ own field of Neurology, although the Centre works to an open structure which epitomises its interdisciplinary approach. Its work is also key to the development of PET methodology itself, with Principle Scientist Professor Terry Jones one of a few academics worldwide responsible for developing PET in the 1970s.

The University of Manchester ( is the largest higher education institution in the country, with 24 academic schools and around 36 000 students.

Its Faculty of Medical & Human Sciences ( is one of the largest faculties of clinical and health sciences in Europe, with a research income of around £51 million (almost a third of the University’s total research income). It is comprised of Schools of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Psychological Sciences, representing a diverse portfolio of the highest-quality teaching and research activity.

The Faculty is a key stakeholder in the Greater Manchester Research Alliance, is affliated to five teaching hospitals and closely linked to general hospitals and community practices across the North West of England.

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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