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Explorations in Science and Technology

Diagnosing and Treating Alzheimer's Disease


Pitt researchers have developed a new way of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease that offers hope for more timely treatment of this most common form of dementia.

Since the disease was first identified in the early 20th century, doctors have been able to diagnose Alzheimer’s conclusively only through autopsies of deceased victims’ brains. But a substance developed at Pitt could change that.

Developed by Pitt psychiatry professor William Klunk and radiochemist Chester Mathis, Pittsburgh Compound-B (PiB) binds to the amyloid plaque deposits typically found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. It’s also fluorescent—by the light of a PET scan, PiB gives off a sinister glow.

If it’s validated by clinical trials, PiB could become the leading diagnostic tool for Alzheimer’s disease, which is predicted to afflict 1 in 85 people in the world by 2050.

Klunk codirects Pitt’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) with neurology and psychiatry professor Oscar Lopez, who has identified clinical and genetic factors that contribute to the devastating condition.

Founded in 1994, ADRC is funded by the National Institute of Aging. As part of its research program, ADRC provides comprehensive outpatient evaluation including medical, neurological, psychiatric, social, and cognitive assessments.