A Blood Test for Alzheimer’s Disease

By Sarah Baker

 

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Image Credit: www.clinicaladvisor.com

 

Scientists may be closer to having a reliable blood test to predict the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. Amyloid beta (Aβ) is a protein found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and can start building up in the brain many years and even decades before patients show signs of cognitive decline associated with the disease. Current tests to diagnose Alzheimer’s involve PET scans of the brain or a highly invasive spinal tap procedure. Many individuals have tried to create accurate blood tests of Alzheimer’s but it has proven technically challenging due to the very small amount of Aβ found in the blood stream. However, a team of scientists based in Australia and Japan has shown that they can detect Aβ biomarkers in the blood of patients with similar accuracy to the brain imaging and cerebral spinal fluid tests. Their new technique uses mass spectrometry to detect rations between different types of Aβ and could have huge cost benefit in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

One of the most devastating things about Alzheimer’s disease is that it is a progressive disease with no cure. Although numerous clinical trials have been conducted for Alzheimer’s therapies, none have been shown to be effective in slowing down disease progression. The disease starts long before signs of dementia appear and thus treatments may be far too late to have any significant effect on the brain dysfunction that has already been occurring for a long time. This new blood test gives hope that in a minimally invasive and highly scalable way, scientists and doctors may be able to detect abnormal Aβ levels much earlier in the life of at risk individuals. These individuals may be able to make lifestyle changes or enroll in clinical trials to see if early intervention decreases the likelihood of developing the disease.

While this test is promising and results are reproducible, the authors of this study warn that many issues need to be addressed before this technique will be available for use by doctors in a clinic. One technical challenge is that different blood collection procedures exist at different locations which could make analysis comparing samples unreliable. The costs may be high for patients before the test becomes more widespread. In addition, no one has been able to study Aβ levels across long periods of time and this is something that must be done if scientists are to be able to more fully understand the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, it is yet to be seen whether targeting Aβ long before cognitive deficits appear will improve the outcome of an individual at risk for the disease. Nonetheless, this study is a breakthrough in the field and has the potential to truly improve the lives of individuals predisposed to Alzheimer’s disease and their loved ones.

 

Original Article: https://www.nature.com/articles/nature25456#abstract

 

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