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Could a blood test help detect early Alzheimer’s?

Posted by Dr. Shirley Newell
Date:

picture of a close up needle taking out blood from an arm

Advancements in medicine have helped doctors detect Alzheimer’s disease earlier. Diagnosis relies greatly on recognizing symptoms such as memory issues, confusion, poor judgment and personality changes. Positron emission tomography brain scans and testing for plasma in lumbar fluid can also help catch the disease early on, but such procedures are very expensive and can be invasive.

The hope has always been to diagnose and begin treatment before the symptoms of Alzheimer’s even start. After all, there’s no cure for the disease, and once a senior begins to show signs of the condition, the cognitive deterioration is irreversible. While memory loss can be slowed with the help of pharmaceuticals and therapeutic methods, these approaches only curtail the mental decline. Fortunately, there’s new hope for future generations who might be affected by Alzheimer’s. Researchers at King’s College London have made steps toward developing a blood test that can detect the condition before symptoms set in.

About the study

Published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association in July 2014, the study was conducted in collaboration with Proteome Sciences and is the largest of its kind in medical history. The researchers analyzed data from three global studies that included blood samples from 1,148 people. Among those participants, 476 had Alzheimer’s, 220 had mild cognitive impairment and the remaining had no signs of dementia.

The analysis revealed that there are 26 proteins associated with Alzheimer’s, 16 of which are strongly linked to brain shrinkage that occurs in affected patients. Through rigorous testing, the researchers narrowed these molecules down to locate a combination of 10 proteins typically present before the onset of this form of dementia. A blood test that detects these proteins may help clinicians diagnose and treat patients up to a year before irreversible memory loss begins to occur. The blood tests had an 87 percent accuracy rate.

The next steps

Further testing is required to hone the testing process and improve accuracy. With a growing aging population and increasing prevalence of the condition (Alzheimer’s Disease International predicted that the number of people with the disease would swell to 135 million by 2050), it’s more important than ever to improve the diagnostic process. According to the study’s senior author, University of Oxford professor Simon Lovestone, it may also help improve drug testing that could lead to new, more effective treatments.

“Many of our drug trials fail because by the time patients are given the drugs, the brain has already been too severely affected,” Lovestone wrote. “A simple blood test could help us identify patients at a much earlier stage to take part in new trials and hopefully develop treatments which could prevent the progression of the disease.”

In the meantime, the researchers are in the process of choosing commercial partners who can combine the protein biomarkers in a blood test that could be used in clinical settings around the world.

 

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