Scientists have made a blood test that can find out if someone has Alzheimer’s disease without having to do an expensive scan of the brain or a painful lumbar puncture to get a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from the lower back.
If the test is proven to be accurate, it could make it easier to figure out what’s wrong with a patient and start treatment sooner. Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, but it’s still hard to tell when someone has it, especially in the early stages.
Current guidelines suggest looking for three different signs: abnormal amounts of amyloid and tau proteins, as well as neurodegeneration, which is the slow and steady loss of neuronal cells in certain parts of the brain.
This can be done with the help of both imaging of the brain and analysis of the CSF. But a lumbar puncture can be painful, and afterward people may have headaches or back pain. Brain imaging, on the other hand, is expensive and hard to schedule.
New blood test could diagnose Alzheimer’s disease even without symptoms pic.twitter.com/43gRfOwJj1
— Times No1 (@no1_times) December 28, 2022
University of Pittsburgh, PA, US, Professor Thomas Karikari, who participated in the study, said, “A lot of patients, even in the US, don’t have access to MRI and PET scanners. Accessibility is a major issue.”
Getting a reliable blood test would be a big step in the right direction. “A blood test is cheaper, safer and easier to administer, and it can improve clinical confidence in diagnosing Alzheimer’s and selecting participants for clinical trial and disease monitoring,” Karikari said.
Even though current blood tests can find abnormalities in amyloid and tau proteins, it has been harder to find brain-specific signs of nerve cell damage.
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Karikari and his colleagues from all over the world worked on making a blood test that uses antibodies to find a type of tau protein called brain-derived tau that is only found in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
They tried it out on 600 Alzheimer’s patients at different stages and found that the levels of the protein matched up well with the levels of tau in the CSF and could reliably tell Alzheimer’s from other neurodegenerative diseases.
1. Japan has approved one of the world’s first blood test kits which is designed to detect Alzheimer’s.
The product, which was designed by Sysmex Corp, measures amyloid beta in the blood, which is a marker for the disease. pic.twitter.com/zAsqhIECG6
— BFM News (@NewsBFM) December 22, 2022
The amount of amyloid plaques and tau tangles in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients who had died was also closely linked to the amount of protein in the brains. The findings were written up in the journal Brain.
The next step will be to test the test on a wider range of patients, including those of different races and ethnicities and those with different levels of memory loss or other possible signs of dementia.
Karikari also thinks that keeping an eye on how much brain-made tau is in the blood could help make clinical trials for Alzheimer’s treatments better.
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Jessa Martin is the author of Nogmagazine, A professional in writing by day, and novelist by night, she received her bachelor of arts in film from Howard University and her master of arts in media studies from the New School. A Brooklyn native, she is a lover of naps, cookie dough, and beaches, currently residing in the borough she loves, most likely multitasking.