Blood test could be key to Alzheimer’s detection

A blood test could soon identify people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, after Australian scientists identified a series of markers associated with the degenerative condition.
Nanjing Night Net

The blood-based biological markers identified are associated with the toxic protein called amyloid beta, which builds up in the brain.

CSIRO research scientist Samantha Burnham said levels of the protein were found to reach abnormal levels at about 17 years before dementia symptoms, such as memory loss, appear.

”We’re buying time with this,” Dr Burnham said. “If we can get this early identification, then we can intervene with people at risk of this disease.”

Being able to identify the disease in its early stages is critical, as it could allow intervention before irreversible damage is inflicted on the brain.

Noel Faux from the Florey Institute of Neurosciences and Mental Health said the progressive build up of the toxic protein was one of the earliest known changes in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Seven markers in the blood have been identified by the researchers, who hail from CSIRO, the Florey Institute of Neurosciences and Mental Health, Edith Cowan University and the National Ageing Research Institute.

They are now trying to refine the way the blood is processed to make the test quick, affordable and effective. Currently tests conduced in America measure around 200 items in the blood, which costs time and money. But with the key markers narrowed down to seven, researchers are developing a more targeted test.

Two other factors – age and results of a cognitive test– are also used in diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

“We are hoping that within a five to ten year timeframe we will be able to roll this out as a frontline screening tool,” Dr Burnham said.

Published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, the researchers worked with 273 volunteers aged over 65. Some had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, while others were healthy but concerned they might be experiencing memory loss.

The volunteers underwent brain scans and neuro-psychological tests as well as providing blood samples and their medical history.

”The bloods were analysed to measure the levels of about 250 different items in the blood,” she said. “We then did some quite complex mathematical modelling to identify which of those 250 measurements and in what combination would match up to the brain scans.”

Thousands of mathematical models were tested during this process, which took three years.

Alzheimer’s Australia estimates there are more than 321,600 Australians living with dementia. By 2050, the ageing population means this could be as high as 900,000. Currently there are about 1700 new cases of dementia diagnosed in Australia each week.

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