Alzheimer’s disease has no cure, and drug treatments offer minimal help. Many experts believe that progress in drug research is hindered by the fact that although the disease is thought to begin long before symptoms become obvious, it can’t be diagnosed until the disease has progressed. An earlier diagnosis might provide time for an effective intervention.
German scientists have developed a blood test for Alzheimer’s long before symptoms, like memory loss, appear.
One of the characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease is the accumulation of amyloid-beta plaques in the patient’s brain. The blood test, which was developed by Klaus Gerwert and his team at Ruhr University Bochum, Germany, measures the amounts of both a pathological and a healthy form of amyloid-beta in the blood.
The pathological form is a misfolded version of this molecule, and it spurs the formation of toxic plaques in the brain. Theses toxic amyloid-beta molecules start accumulating in the patients’ body 15 to 20 years before symptoms appear.
First, researchers studied patients who had mild cognitive impairment — some of whom would progress to dementia while others would develop Alzheimer’s. They found that the new blood test reliably detected amyloid-beta alterations in the blood of participants with mild cognitive impairment who also showed abnormal amyloid deposits in brain scans.
Next, the researchers wanted to know if their blood test was able to detect changes in the blood long ahead of onset of the disease. They used data collected from patients from the year 2000 that were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in follow-up studies and compared their results to controls.
The blood test was able to detect signs of the disease on average eight years before diagnosis in individuals without clinical symptoms. It correctly identified those with the disease in almost 70 percent of the cases, while about 9 percent of patients who were negative were falsely identified as positive. The overall diagnostic accuracy was 86 percent.
The blood test will be extended to diagnose Parkinson’s disease by measuring another disease biomarker — alpha-synuclein — instead of amyloid-beta.
The study is published in EMBO Molecular Medicine.
Mayo Clinic researchers have found that one simple warning sign of Alzheimer’s may be being sleepy during the day. They studied adults 70 years and older without dementia. Imaging scans were done at the beginning of the study and at least once more during the next seven years. Later scans showed that those who reported being very sleepy during the day — 22.3 percent — had accumulations of beta amyloid in areas of the brain associated with Alzheimer’s.
Other researchers are working on methods of removing beta amyloid protein from the brains of mice genetically predisposed to develop amyloid plaques by developing antibodies against an Alzheimer’s protein called APOE that binds to the beta amyloid plaques.
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