Spect Brain DaTscan™

Providence Saint John’s Nuclear Medicine Department offers a new diagnostic imaging procedure called Spect Brain DaTscan™. This scan allows physicians for the first time to quickly and accurately diagnose Parkinsonian syndromes in patients. Until now, no definitive test was available to differentiate Parkinson’s from other movement disorders, such as essential tremor.

Providence Saint John’s is one of only a few hospitals in the Los Angeles area to presently offer Spect Brain DaTscan™, which is performed on an outpatient basis. The test combines the use of a new FDA-approved radiopharmaceutical manufactured by GE Healthcare, called DaTscan™, with state-of-the-art imaging technology known as single photon emission computed tomography, or SPECT.

How it works

For the test, DaTscan™, the radioactive agent, is administered via intravenous injection and then goes to the area of the patient’s brain – the basal ganglia – that produces dopamine. Low levels of dopamine in the brains of Parkinson’s patients are associated with the tremors and other symptoms associated with the disease. Other movement disorders, like essential tremor, originate in different areas of the brain and are not linked to decreased dopamine production. DaTscan™ contains trace amounts of a radioactive isotope that attaches to the dopamine neurons in the basal ganglia without disturbing the brain’s function. Using SPECT scanning technology, nuclear medicine specialists can determine from computerized images of the basal ganglia whether the patient’s brain is producing normal or abnormal levels of dopamine.

Why it is important

For physicians, it’s key to know whether a patient has Parkinson’s or another neurological condition, like essential tremor, because the diagnostic and therapeutic pathways for the two conditions can be different. It’s also important for families to know specifically whether the patient has Parkinson’s or not. There’s reassurance in knowing one way or the other.