Researchers have developed a new blood test that could detect Alzheimer’s disease in individuals eight years before clinical symptoms became apparent.
One of the major problems with treating Alzheimer’s disease is that by the time symptoms develop, serious changes to the brain have already taken place.
Currently, there is no simple way to detect if an individual is developing the condition.
The only reliable methods of diagnosis are positron emission tomography (PET) brain scans, which are time-consuming and expensive, and the analysis of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) collected by a lumbar puncture, which is painful and invasive.
German researchers, however, believe they have found the key to detecting Alzheimer’s disease early through a minimally invasive blood test.
One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease is an abnormal build-up of amyloid-beta plaques in the brain.
Amyloid-beta is present in the healthy brain, but in individuals with Alzheimer’s, the protein folds incorrectly and accumulates.
Amyloid plaques can begin developing 15–20 years before symptoms of Alzheimer’s appear.
The new blood test extracts all amyloid-beta from a blood sample and the researchers, using infrared light, are then able to measure the relative levels of healthy and unhealthy protein.
The researchers assessed blood samples from 874 individuals, 65 of whom later went on to develop Alzheimer’s disease and 809 who didn’t. The research team correctly diagnosed 70 per cent of those who would go on to develop Alzheimer’s and wrongly predicted that nine per cent of the 809 healthy samples would develop the disease. Overall, the diagnostic accuracy was 86 per cent.
What do you think? Does early detection give you hope that scientists are close to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s? What would you do if you were diagnosed as being likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease eight years down the track?