Most Accurate Alzheimer's Test Developed
> 3/17/2009 7:55:13 PM

U Penn researchers have developed what is certainly the most accurate Alzheimer’s disease test to date. Their discovery carries major implications for the future of related research and treatment methods.

By analyzing samples of cerebrospinal fluid to test for the presence of two Alzheimer’s biochemical signatures, researchers were able to determine with great accuracy whether certain subjects could be positively diagnosed with the condition before their first symptoms had even begun to appear. Perhaps more importantly, they were able to determine whether a given subject’s dementia-like symptoms would eventually become full-blown Alzheimer’s.

The research in question focused on two types of proteins, tau protein and amyloid beta42 peptide (Aß42), that are very closely associated with Alzheimer’s. Amyloid beta makes up the plaque or white matter that clouds the brains of affected subjects, and its absence in the bloodstream indicates a more pronounced presence in the nervous system. More than 400 participants volunteered to donate their cerebrospinal fluid (extracted through a safe, simple lumbar procedure aka spinal tap) as part of a long-term Alzheimer’s study. In order to establish benchmark levels of these proteins, researchers compared fluid from unaffected subjects with that of post-mortem Alzheimer’s patients.

Abnormally large amounts of tau protein and, alternately, low amounts of the amyloid peptide can definitively distinguish Alzheimer’s from other cognitive disorders. While the peptide plaques attach themselves to brain matter and facilitate neurological degeneration, they cannot perform this action without the support of the pre-existing tau proteins which, when present in unsustainable levels, create neurofibrilary tangles or crisscrossed neuro-fibers that ultimately lead to cell death. Patients who possess both of these complimentary markers are almost certain to develop the condition over time. Post-mortem tests on study subjects proved this principle to be correct and showed that the test devised by the researchers was accurate 87% of the time over all – a number more than large enough to be called clinically significant. It proved most effective when used to detect or disprove Alzheimer’s diagnoses – researchers’ estimates in those areas were accurate 96.4 and 95.2% of the time, respectively. The act of determining whether subjects who displayed symptoms of mild dementia would eventually develop Alzheimer’s proved to be slightly more difficult, but its success rate was still a considerable 81.8%.

It would seem that the foundations of Alzheimer’s appear very early and that they easily predate the first symptoms of dementia and related cognitive impairments. The sooner this test can be offered by every GP in the country, the closer we will be to developing more effective treatments.

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