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Cleveland Clinic predicts top medical breakthrough of 2011

Cleveland Clinic releases its annual top 10, with the radioactive molecular imaging compound AV-45--poised to help early detection of Alzheimer's--taking the top spot.

This week, at Cleveland Clinic's 2010 Medical Innovation Summit, the top 10 medical breakthroughs of 2011 have been predicted, with the new brain imaging compound AV-45--which is poised to help early detection of Alzheimer's--taking the top spot.

Avid Radiopharmaceuticals

Alzheimer's gets its name from German psychiatrist Alois Alzheimer, who began lecturing in the early 1900s about the plaques and tangles he'd found in the post-mortem brain tissue of a 51-year-old patient.

To this day, diagnosing the disease while a patient is still alive is tricky, and there is still no cure. But there have been several breakthroughs in understanding how to identify the disease; elevated levels of the telltale protein tau, for instance, can appear decades before outward signs do.

After injecting the radioactive molecular imaging compound into a patient, AV-45 crosses the blood-brain barrier and binds to the beta-amyloid plaques that are also associated with Alzheimer's. PET imaging then enables physicians to see any dyed amyloid plaques and make a diagnosis.

Cleveland Clinic expects this new technique, invented by researchers at Avid Radiopharmaceuticals in Philadelphia, to earn FDA approval in 2011. The judges write:

It's thought that AV-45 can be used as a biomarker not only for diagnosing AD, but also for monitoring disease progress and drug efficacy. Once this novel compound receives its expected FDA approval in 2011, this dream could become a reality, paving the way for better ways to distinguish AD from Parkinson's disease and other types of dementia; using it as an effective method of tracking disease progression from mild cognitive impairment to late AD; and utilizing it as a key diagnostic in the development and testing of the more than 150 AD drugs presently in the pipeline.

Whether AV-45 will play the largest role in the diagnosis of Alzheimer's remains to be seen, but it represents a major advance in earlier detection of the disease.

Check out the other nine breakthroughs here.