Blood Test Could Allow Earlier Detection of Alzheimer's
> 10/16/2007 11:31:40 AM

A test that can reliably detect Alzheimer's before its clinical symptoms become apparent may be one of the best things we can do to help those who suffer from the disease, and yet this goal has been elusive. The current methods of diagnosing Alzheimer's, which involve ruling out other sources of cognitive decline, are time-consuming and ultimately leave the doctor to judge whether or not the symptoms are a result of Alzheimer's or of something else. We have already discussed some of the latest advances made in this field, and this week researchers at Stanford University announced the promising results of a recent study. The researchers, led by neuroscientist Tony Wyss-Coray, developed a blood test which could allow earlier and more reliable diagnoses of Alzheimer's.

The researchers analyzed 259 blood samples taken from individuals with presymptomatic to late-stage Alzheimer's and from individuals without Alzheimer's. They measured the levels of 120 cell-signaling proteins found in plasma and identified 18 distinct proteins associated with Alzheimer's. During the study, the presence of these proteins in the blood accurately predicted an Alzheimer's diagnosis about 90% of the time. The blood test was about 80% effective at identifying those with mild memory loss who would develop Alzheimer's in two to six years.

Because Alzheimer's is generally not diagnosed until after the individual has experienced cognitive decline, the disease usually causes significant damage to the brain before it is even diagnosed. Developing a way to definitively diagnose Alzheimer's earlier is one of the most important things we can do to improve the treatment of those who will develop the disease. In addition to diagnosing those with Alzheimer's, this blood test could be used to identify presymptomatic patients who will most likely develop Alzheimer's within a few years. New drugs in development could potentially reduce cognitive decline, and they would be most effective if taken before clinical symptoms begin. As Dr. Todd Golde, chair of the department of neuroscience at the Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, explains in a press release: "This blood test, if replicated in larger studies, is a major discovery that may lead to more effective therapies to slow the disease's progression or improve existing symptoms, reducing overall healthcare costs."

Alzheimer's affects between 4 and 5 million Americans, and an estimated 1.8 million have the disease but have not been diagnosed. Unfortunately, those numbers will probably only increase over the next fifty years as the population ages and longevity increases. Additional research may allow us to discover why these proteins are different in those with Alzheimer's. We will then have a better picture of how Alzheimer's develops as well as how to treat it more effectively.

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