Published: Fri, February 02, 2018
Medical | By Josefina Yates

Researchers develop blood test to gauge Alzheimer's risk

Researchers develop blood test to gauge Alzheimer's risk

The research teams found they were able to detect a specific peptide in the blood, a biomarker for the build-up of the protein amyloid beta in the brain; a fundamental hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.

So while we don't have any effective singular treatment for Alzheimer's now, this blood test will hopefully speed up research by making clinical trials more effective.

Now brain scans or invasive cerebrospinal fluid testing, also known as a spinal tap, are used to ascertain the deposition in the brain of an abnormal protein, called amyloid beta. "And that's where the real value in this test will come", said Colin Masters, a professor at the University of Melbourne who co-led the research.

The research team analyzed plasma samples from two independent data sets that contained samples from people who were cognitively normal, people who had mild cognitive impairment, and people who had Alzheimer's-related dementia.

Up to 40 per cent of people over 70 years old are at risk of Alzheimer's disease due to the beta-amyloid in their brains, according to Dementia Australia.

But the researchers cautioned that they were still far from practical clinical application.

Scientists not directly involved in the study said it made an important step, but now needed to be replicated. Inherent to the hypothesis that amyloid plaques in the brain are one of the main causes of the disease, is the notion that these plaques often build up slowly, over 10 or 20 years, before clinical signs like memory loss become apparent.

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At the moment there is no treatment to change the course of Alzheimer's, so any test would have limited use for patients.

One of the big challenges now facing many Alzheimer's researchers is the difficulty in diagnosing the disease during its early, preclinical stages.

"From a tiny blood sample, our method can measure several amyloid-related proteins, even though their concentration is extremely low".

"Our findings suggest that frontal network modulation to improve executive and behavioural deficits should be further studied in patients with Alzheimer's disease", said Ali Rezai, neurosurgeon at the West Virginia University. Current drugs can do no more than ease some of the symptoms.

The discovery could rapidly speed up the progress of clinical drug trials to treat the disease and could eventually form the basis for routinely screening for and diagnosing Alzheimer's disease in the community.

The study found the test was capable of detecting the peptides in people at each stage of disease progression; a process that typically takes 30 years, from preclinical to full-blown Alzheimer's disease, Professor Masters said.

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