Making the Most of Every Moment: A New Tool Could Help Detect Alzheimer’s Disease Years Before Symptoms Appear

Conducting research of Amyloid proteins in blood

Recent research is demonstrating that a protein in the blood could be used to monitor Alzheimer’s years before any outward signs manifest in a patient. This could potentially be a huge development and here’s why:

If a reliable method of predicting the development Alzheimer’s is available, then new treatments can be refined and started much earlier in the patient’s life. But earlier awareness of Alzheimer’s disease also helps patients and their families make life plans while the patients still have their mental faculties and can make their own decisions regarding the road ahead. This means more time to develop a care strategy, more time to get personal finances in order, more time to spend with loved ones—maybe even finally taking that dream vacation that someone may have been putting off.

How earlier Alzheimer’s detection and tracking is possible

In many types of dementia, changes in the brain can occur years before any outward symptoms. In Alzheimer’s disease specifically, these changes can be detected by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron-emission tomography (PET) scans. But these scans can be expensive, which limits their use to scan for Alzheimer’s during regular clinical practice. There are certain proteins, known as amyloid-β and tau that can be measured in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to detect Alzheimer’s, but extracting a sample of this fluid can be quite invasive for a patient. Detecting these proteins in a patient’s blood doesn’t work, as the proteins degrade rapidly.

But this is where a new blood test could potentially make a strong impact in uncovering and monitoring the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in a patient. This new research does not look directly at amyloid proteins, but instead focuses on the effect that a buildup of these proteins has on the brain. By looking at neurodegeneration, in other words the death of neurons in the human brain, the team can detect what’s known as a neurofilament. This neurofilament is more resistant to degradation, and in the study, researchers were able to demonstrate that it accumulates in the blood significantly before the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms. They believe that the sensitivity of this blood test can clarify the course of Alzheimer’s disease in a patient and in a sense predict the future of its development.

The researchers tested 405 individuals that were genetically predisposed to develop Alzheimer’s disease. They monitored the development of neurofilament concentration in these individuals yearly, and they were able to detect changes up to 16 years in advance before dementia symptoms were calculated to occur through previous genetic analysis. “It is not the absolute neurofilament concentration, but its temporal evolution, which is meaningful and allows predictions about the future progression of the disease,” said Mathias Jucker, Senior Researcher for German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) and the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research (HIH), who along with University Hospital Tuebingen, conducted the study.

It was noted that neurofilaments in the blood will build up with cognitive conditions other than Alzheimer’s disease, so more research is needed to understand the full value that this blood test can offer, but it does show promise as an investigation tool for new Alzheimer’s treatments. It also could open a window to help a patient maximize their quality of life and make the most of each moment spent with those that hold the most importance in their lives.

Georgia Memory Net at a Glance

What is Georgia Memory Net and why does it exist? There’s so much information about Alzheimer’s and related dementias in Georgia, and how to diagnose and treat them, that it can become overwhelming. We’ve done our best to simplify the info into a clear one-page infographic.

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