Scientists have developed blood tests that can detect the build-up of toxic proteins linked to Alzheimer’s disease. The work published in the journal Nature is an important step for dementia.
The tests have been trialled on healthy people, those with memory loss and Alzheimer’s patients, with a 90% accuracy. Experts have said the tests are promising; however, they were done in the early stages and will need further testing.
Alzheimer’s disease goes undetected for years before a patient begins to see any sort of symptoms of memory loss.
The key to treating dementia will be getting in early before the permanent loss of brain cells. This is one of the reasons that there is such a large amount of research into Alzheimer’s.
One method is to look for the toxic protein called amyloid beta. This protein builds up in the brain during the disease; however, it can be detected with a brain scan.
How is the new approach different?
The new approach looks for fragments of amyloid that end up in the blood stream by assessing the ratios of amyloid fragments. By assessing these fragments, researchers can accurately predict the levels of amyloid beta in the brain.
The study shows it is possible to look in the blood to gain an insight into what is happening in the brain.
Dr Abdul Hye, from King’s College London, UK, said: “This study has major implications as it is the first time a group has shown a strong association of blood plasma amyloid with brain and cerebrospinal fluid.”
Hye added: “Considering Alzheimer’s disease has a very long preclinical phase, a truer test will be how well this test performs in independent, healthy, cognitively normal individuals or even in individuals in the early stages of the disease.”
According to the study, the new test is cheaper than brain scanning, “potentially enabling broader clinical access and efficient population screening”.
Currently, there is no treatment to change the course of Alzheimer’s, so any test would have limited use for patients.
However, it could be useful in clinical trials
Professor Tara Spires-Jones, from the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences, at the University of Edinburgh, UK, said: “These data are very promising and may be incredibly useful in the future, in particular for choosing which people are suited for clinical trials and for measuring whether amyloid levels are changed by treatments in trials.”