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Blood test developed for early Alzheimer’s detection

Published on 20/07/17 at 03:03pm

A blood test has been created that could offer an inexpensive, and less invasive, alternative to current Alzheimer’s disease tests. The method aims to detect amyloid beta in the blood, as the build-up of this protein in the brain is strongly associated with the disease.

The research, conducted by Washington University School of Medicine, may potentially be able to identify people who have unusual levels of amyloid beta in the blood. This means that an individual could be screened for Alzheimer’s risk in an easier manner than present methods.

Standard tests, currently, are limited to spinal taps and PET scanning – both have their issues. For example, PET scanning is expensive while spinal taps are both invasive and a specialised procedure.

The blood test would therefore be a far more convenient alternative. It works due to the fact that amyloid beta is cleared from the brain continually, some of which ends up in the bloodstream. As amyloid beta levels increase in the brain to form plaques, levels in the blood were found to correlate to a specific proportion of certain amyloids discovered by the researchers.

In a study of 41 individuals aged 60 and over, those that possessed amyloid build-up in the brain had 10-15% lower levels of amyloid beta 42 compared with amyloid beta 40 than those who did not.

"Amyloid plaques are composed primarily of amyloid beta 42, so this probably means that it is being deposited in the brain before moving into the bloodstream," Randall J. Bateman, the Charles F. and Joanne Knight Distinguished Professor of Neurology and the study's senior author.

"The differences are not big, but they are highly consistent," he further explained. "Our method is very sensitive, and particularly when you have many repeated samples as in this study – more than 500 samples overall – we can be highly confident that the difference is real. Even a single sample can distinguish who has amyloid plaques."

Though the study did contain some false positives, there were very few false negatives. This means that, should further trials prove consistent, the test could be used as an initial gauge to decide whether the individual needed a PET scan.

The research news was revealed alongside other research in the area that suggests lifestyle factors can have an influence on whether individuals go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease. The research found that certain risk factors can result in 35% of the potential risk of an individual developing the disease. The factors included mid-life hearing loss (9%), failing to complete secondary education (8%) and smoking (5%).

This further research points to a real focus with dementia research to identify what can be done for and by individuals before Alzheimer’s symptoms have already developed. This is where the blood test may come in useful, as it could allow for identification of individuals prior to development enrolling in clinical trials for drugs that prevent development of the disease.

Ben Hargreaves

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