Early dementia detection

Australian scientists have made a significant breakthrough in how early we may be able to discover the warning signs of dementia.

According to Dementia Australia, there are an estimated 459,000 Australians living with dementia and, once symptoms occur, they cannot be reversed.

This is why researchers have been exploring ways to diagnose the condition before it develops, which will then allow for medicines to be discovered to halt or prevent its progress.

Medical researchers at Flinders University, working in conjunction with a team at the University of Aberdeen, believe they may have now made an important breakthrough in that area.

In an innovative new study, the researchers discovered a marker in the blood that may point to the onset of dementia in future years.

The researchers investigated the role of the molecule asymmetric dimethylarginine (ADMA), which is associated with cardiovascular disease, and looked for links to cognitive decline in an established cohort of human ageing (the 1936 Aberdeen Birth Cohort).

Unlike other human ageing study cohorts, the 1936 Aberdeen Birth Cohort participants also underwent childhood intelligence tests at age 11, a key predictor of intelligence and health in old age.

By measuring ADMA levels when the participants were 63 years old, the research team discovered high ADMA levels were associated with a decline in cognitive performance assessments after four years, explained Flinders University’s Professor Arduino Mangoni.

“Therefore, the results of this study suggest that ADMA, an easily measurable marker of atherosclerosis (arterial plaque build-up) and cardiovascular risk, could be an early indicator of cognitive decline in old age – and possibly dementia,” Prof. Mangoni said.

Alzheimer’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder characterised by a rapid decline in cognition and significant disability in old age, currently affects more than 342,000 Australians. This number is expected to increase to 400,000 in less than a decade.

The causes of late onset Alzheimer’s are largely unknown and despite extensive research, there is still no clear consensus on robust biomarkers to predict disease onset and progression and the response to therapies.

UK researcher Dr Deborah Malden says the results of the new study should be approached with caution and need further extensive investigations.

“We should be cautious about emphasising the results with the 93 participants’ results here,” she said.

“We would know much more after repeating this study in a large-scale cohort, potentially tens of thousands of individuals,” Dr Malden explained.

If the study findings are verified after large-scale testing, the researchers are hopeful it could pave the way for population-wide dementia risk assessment and development of medicinal strategies to reduce ADMA levels and slow the progression of cognitive decline in old age.

There are already proven animal studies and drug interventions that significantly reduce ADMA levels.

Do you think scientists will eventually be able to curb the number of dementia cases worldwide?

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Written by Ben


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