Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Significant step towards blood test for Alzheimer’s

Scientists have identified a set of 10 proteins in the blood which can predict the onset of Alzheimer’s, marking a significant step towards developing a blood test for the disease. 

The study, published today in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association, is funded by the NIHR Mental Health Biomedical Research Centre and Dementia Unit at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, as well as Alzheimer’s Research UK and the UK Medical Research Council. The research is being led by King’s College London and Proteome Sciences.

There are currently no effective long-lasting drug treatments for Alzheimer’s, and it is believed that many new clinical trials fail because drugs are given too late in the disease process. A blood test could be used to identify patients in the early stages of memory loss for clinical trials to find drugs to halt the progression of the disease. 

The researchers used data from three international studies. Blood samples from a total of 1,148 individuals (476 with Alzheimer’s disease; 220 with ‘Mild Cognitive Impairment’ (MCI) and 452 elderly controls without dementia) were analysed for 26 proteins previously shown to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease. A sub-group of 476 individuals across all three groups also had an MRI brain scan.  

Researchers identified 16 of these 26 proteins to be strongly associated with brain shrinkage in either MCI or Alzheimer’s. They then ran a second series of tests to establish which of these proteins could predict the progression from MCI to Alzheimer’s. They identified a combination of 10 proteins capable of predicting whether individuals with MCI would develop Alzheimer’s disease within a year, with an accuracy of 87 percent. 

Professor Simon Lovestone, senior author of the study from the University of Oxford, who led the work whilst at King’s, said: “Alzheimer’s begins to affect the brain many years before patients are diagnosed with the disease. Many of our drug trials fail because by the time patients are given the drugs, the brain has already been too severely affected. A simple blood test could help us identify patients at a much earlier stage to take part in new trials and hopefully develop treatments which could prevent the progression of the disease. The next step will be to validate our findings in further sample sets, to see if we can improve accuracy and reduce the risk of misdiagnosis, and to develop a reliable test suitable to be used by doctors.” 

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Globally, it is estimated that 135 million people will have dementia by 2050. In 2010, the annual global cost of dementia was estimated at $604 billion. MCI includes problems with day-to-day memory, language and attention, and can be an early sign of dementia, or a symptom of stress or anxiety. Approximately 10% of people diagnosed with MCI develop dementia within a year but apart from regular assessments to measure memory decline, there is currently no accurate way of predicting who will, or won’t, develop dementia.



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