Researchers have discovered a new blood test for the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. Testing for blood-borne autoantibodies, the scientists have been able to accurately diagnose early-stage Alzheimer’s for the first time.
Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia, affects approximately 850,000 people in the UK. The exact cause of the disease has yet to be identified, although factors such as age, family history and previous severe injuries, as well as lifestyle, are thought to increase the risk of developing the condition. Currently there is no known cure for the disease.
As a progressive neurological disease that affects multiple brain functions, the first sign of Alzheimer’s is usually minor memory difficulties. Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) can be caused by factors such as depression or medication side-effects, but roughly 60% of all MCI is caused by an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have now developed a blood test for identifying when an early stage of AD is caused by MCI – with previously unseen levels of 100% specificity, sensitivity and overall accuracy. Whilst the research is extremely promising, the limited sample size means that more research will be needed for the study’s results to be applicable to the wider population.
Within the ‘proof of concept’ study involving 236 subjects, a group of researchers led by Dr. Robert Nagele from Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine and Durin Technologies Inc., screened blood sera ‘with human protein microarrays to identify potential biomarkers for MCI’. Cassandra DeMarshall, the study’s lead author told Rowan Today that the research could ‘eventually lead to the development of a simple, inexpensive and relatively non-invasive way to diagnose this devastating disease in its earliest stages’. The study’s innovative diagnostic approach could allow for future researchers to potentially diagnose and treat AD prior to the onset of symptoms.
Patient outcomes are more favourable with early AD diagnosis, as treatment to delay symptom progression can start earlier to increase quality of life for longer. Patients with less cognitive impairment are also able to make lifestyle adjustments for coping with their condition, as well as medical care plans. Amazingly, the researchers’ blood test methodology also has the potential to become a valuable multi-disease diagnostic tool for Parkinson’s disease, breast cancer and multiple sclerosis. Making meaningful strides towards the development of better treatments for AD, the study provides hope for the millions who are directly or indirectly affected by dementia.