New blood test could detect risk of Alzheimer's disease 30 years early
02 February, 2018, 00:56 | Author: Lynne Higgins
It's too early to say for sure, but a new blood test demonstrating a 90% accuracy rate could help scientists identify toxic proteins in the brain.
The new technique of "deep brain stimulation", which plants two permanent microscopic electrodes, which are linked to an electric pulse generator under the skin of the chest, through deep-brain surgery, has already been tested in many thousands of patients with severe Parkinson's and is now experimentally tested on Alzheimer's. The new test will not only make diagnosis cheaper, earlier and more available, it will also fast track research discoveries into the disease.
Currently, doctors use brain scans or invasive cerebrospinal fluid testing, also known as a spinal tap, to try and see whether patients have a build-up of amyloid beta in the brain.
"We have many memory aides, tools and pharmaceutical treatments to help Alzheimer's patients with memory, but we don't have anything to help with improving their judgments, making good decisions, or increasing their ability to selectively focus attention on the task at hand and avoid distractions", said Douglas Scharre, neurologist at The Ohio State University.
The scientists wrote in the Nature journal: "All test biomarkers showed high performance when predicting brain amyloid-beta burden". Buildup of the abnormal protein in the brain is one sign of Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia.
In the United Kingdom, there are more than 520,000 people affected by the disease, costing £26.3 billion, according to the Alzheimer's Society.
The team trialed the test on 121 patients from Japan and 252 from Australia with varying levels of health, ranging from healthy to mild cognitive impairments or Alzheimer's disease.
A simple, low-priced blood tests could also make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to secure enough people at risk of Alzheimer's to test new drugs to fight the disease, said researchers.
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.
In 2016, dementia became the leading cause of death among Australian females, surpassing heart disease.
This first small test by scientists in the U.S. has left promises, as it seems to improve the quality of life of patients, slowing the worsening of the disease and allowing them to maintain their autonomy in their day-to-day activities for longer.
Research into Alzheimer's treatment had been "disappointedly slow", Professor Masters said.
Alzheimer's disease starts years before patients have any symptoms of memory loss.
Dr Koichi Tanaka from Japanese medical technology company Shimadzu Corporation was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2002 for developing the blood testing procedure.
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