Principal investigator Gil Rabinovici, M.D.
Advanced technology that can help determine an Alzheimer's disease diagnosis is available but not commonly used. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved positron emission tomography (PET) scans to detect amyloid plaques — a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease — in the living brain in 2012. However, only a small percentage of the millions of Americans with dementia symptoms have access to diagnostic PET technology. Amyloid PET scans are expensive, and Medicare does not currently cover their cost because there is not yet sufficient evidence that the scans improve health care outcomes in suspected Alzheimer's cases. Most physicians now use patient history and cognitive assessments to make a diagnosis of Alzheimer's without determining whether amyloid deposits are present in the brain. Inaccurate diagnoses put people with dementia at risk of inappropriate patient management. They may not get medications that could help their symptoms, or they may take the wrong medications unnecessarily.
The IDEAS study will demonstrate the value of amyloid PET scans in making a more accurate Alzheimer's diagnosis in cases where there is uncertainty. Initiated and co-chaired by Maria Carrillo, Ph.D., Alzheimer's Association® chief science officer, and Gil Rabinovici, M.D., associate professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco, in partnership with the American College of Radiology, the Imaging Dementia — Evidence for Amyloid Scanning (IDEAS) study is a four-year, $100 million public-private partnership to determine the clinical usefulness and impact of amyloid PET imaging. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is reimbursing the costs of the scans for more than 18,000 seniors with mild cognitive impairment or dementia of an uncertain cause. The IDEAS research team will assess the impact of amyloid PET imaging on patient care management and will also compare major medical outcomes such as hospital admissions and emergency room visits among patients enrolled in the study versus matched patients not in the study.
Study results could significantly improve Alzheimer's detection, diagnosis and patient care. The Alzheimer's Association is confident that, at the end of the IDEAS study, sufficient data will be amassed to assess whether imaging has a positive impact on patient outcomes, leading to expansion of Medicare coverage of this important procedure. The Association has committed to raise $1.8 million in support of the IDEAS study, including a registry of the participants.