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New blood test predicts onset of Alzheimer's disease with 90% accuracy

By

March 9, 2014

Alzheimer's disease gradually destroys the brain and its function (Photo: US National Inst...

Alzheimer's disease gradually destroys the brain and its function (Photo: US National Institutes of Health)

A group of medical researchers working at Georgetown University, the University of Rochester and UC-Irvine have developed a blood test which predicts with 90 percent accuracy if an individual will develop Alzheimer's disease or mild cognitive impairment (MCI) within three years. The test, which looks for a set of ten lipid markers, will allow treatments to be sought that may be effective during this early, asymptomatic stage of the disease.

Alzheimer's disease (memory-related MCI is thought to consist of early Alzheimer's symptoms) is a scourge ravishing the elderly among us, with 35 million currently afflicted worldwide, a number that is expected to grow to 115 million by mid-century. Alzheimer's is universally fatal, with life expectancy of about seven years after diagnosis. Diagnosis is generally indirect, largely based on symptoms and ruling out other causes of dementia.

There exist no treatments to cure or slow the inexorable progress of Alzheimer's. Some possibilities, however, have appeared in epidemiological studies, which show that people undergoing long term therapy with NSAIDS (non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs) are less likely to develop Alzheimer's.

The lack of success in finding effective treatments may be that by the time a clear diagnosis can be made, the disease process is too far advanced to be interrupted. Medical researchers have previously found signatures of early Alzheimer's, but these have required examination of brain tissue or extraction of cerebrospinal fluid, preventing wide use as screening techniques.

The new blood test detects the breakdown products of nerve cell membranes. The signature is a set of ten metabolic products of such disintegration, two of which are highly specific for prediction of Alzheimer's. The test requires determination of the concentration of the ten lipid biomarkers, as all of them are seen in blood of test subjects who do not develop Alzheimer's or MCI. Carried out on the blood plasma, the current version of the blood test requires a good deal of special equipment (including mass spectrographs). Research is ongoing to develop a simpler version that can be used for clinical research, and eventually for screening purposes.

While the new Alzheimer's test has the potential for improving treatment and palliation of the disease, it will pose a new psychological hurdle associated with aging. Some people will want to know their fate, good or bad, so they can plan ahead for their future and the future of those close to them. Others will not be able to face the chance of discovering that they will experience the peculiar loss of self and dignity that is characteristic of Alzheimer's. We can only hope that effective treatment of incipient Alzheimer's disease is found.

Dr. Howard J. Federoff of Georgetown University outlines the research in the video below.

Source: Georgetown University

About the Author
Brian Dodson From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer.   All articles by Brian Dodson
4 Comments

There are a couple of errors in this Alzheimer's story that I would like to correct. Alzheimer's is not "universally fatal," as you write. Many who suffer with Alzheimer's, such as my mother did, die of other, old-age-related causes. My mother died of congestive heart failure, not Alzheimer's, even though she had Alzheimer's for over 10 years. Also, contrary to your categorical statement that "there are no treatments that cure or slow the inexorable progress of Alzheimer's," there are treatments that can slow the progress of the disease. The problem is that they don't work in every patient. One treatment, called Aricept, substantially slowed the course of the disease when my mother had it and was in early-stage Alzheimer's. She was one of the lucky ones who responded well to the medicine. None of the drugs are cures, unfortunately, but in a significant minority of the cases they can help retard the course of the disease.

Steven Flax
10th March, 2014 @ 09:23 am PDT

I read that proper, & early, exercise is a very good preventative measure

Len Simpson
10th March, 2014 @ 10:23 am PDT

This statement is probably INcorrect: "There exist no treatments to cure or slow the inexorable progress of Alzheimer's."

There have been reports of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) being VERY helpful. Coconut oil, specifically, is very rich in them, and that's what people have consumed to quickly reverse symptoms of Alzheimer's and of other neurological diseases.

Roman Tester
11th March, 2014 @ 11:08 am PDT

Please Gizmag, a little critical appraisal.

According to the University, the study of 525 healthy persons had 46 Alzheimers patients identified ON ENROLMENT. Huh?????

Also "The lipids were not targeted before the start of the study, but rather, were an outcome of the study."

This appears to be a retrospective cohort study. I can't get the original paper but it was only a letter in Nature Medicine.

Drsoar
11th March, 2014 @ 04:00 pm PDT
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