Melbourne researchers have made a significant breakthrough in the fight against Alzheimer's.
The team from Austin Hospital can now diagnose the condition 15 years before symptoms develop, offering hope dementia might one day be avoided.
Researchers tracked the build-up of a protein called amyloid, which is created when brain membranes are replaced.
In healthy people, the amyloid breaks down and leaves the body, but in others it gradually builds up, causing dementia 30 years later.
The Australian researchers have developed a scan that can detect the build-up of amyloid 15 years before it took a toll on sufferers.
"If somebody was going to get Alzheimer's disease at 70 years old, our study shows that process would actually start when they were 40, and by the age of 55 we would be able to pick it up on our amyloid PET scans, which show it building up in the brain," study leader Professor Christopher Rowe told an international Alzheimer's disease conference yesterday.
"The hope is that if we get in early and get people on these drugs it will stop the build-up and stop them experiencing dementia."
Rowe said his team's discovery gives drug companies something to target in their race to develop a cure to the debilitating condition. Currently, there is nothing that can be done by the time an individual starts experiencing symptoms of dementia.
The study, which involved 1000 people in Melbourne and Perth, was published in The Lancet Neurology yesterday.