Detecting Alzheimer’s Risk With A Blood Test


Written by InnovativeResearch on February 12, 2018. Posted in Blog

Could it really be so simple?

New research suggests that something as simple as a blood test could potentially reveal whether a person is at risk for developing Alzheimer's disease.

As ScienceNews reports, Alzheimer's patients will commonly begin developing a protein called amyloid-beta in their brain long before any outward sign of the disease develops. Detecting these A-beta buildups ("plaques") in the brain is traditionally done via brain scan or spinal tap, but research is showing that it may be possible to also use A-beta blood levels to predict the presence of these plaques.

A recent study published online in Nature outlines a test to successfully detect plaques as measured by the presence of A-beta in blood plasma with about 90% accuracy (as corroborated by PET brain scan). These results are in line with those from a smaller study that took place last year, performed by a different team of researchers.

Detecting A-beta levels in blood plasma

Developing a blood test for this has historically been challenging, as there are relatively tiny A-beta levels in the blood (as compared to the amounts that build up in the brain), and it has been difficult to find a consistent correlation between the presence of A-beta buildup in the brain and A-beta levels in the blood. This new study used a more sensitive measuring technique (mass spectrometry), allowing for the detection of minute amounts of the protein in blood plasma.

Interpreting A-beta results with ratios

Rather than looking at the total A-beta level found in the blood, the research team instead looked to the ratio between different types of A-beta. These ratios allowed the scientists to differentiate between those who had A-beta brain plaques and those who didn't.

The team created a composite biomarker score by combining two different ratios, which allowed them to predict the presence or absence of A-beta plaques in the brain with ~90% accuracy.

Looking Forward

Currently, there exists no known treatment for Alzheimer's that is able to slow or stop the progression of the disease, so detecting this early isn't able to improve patient outcome at the moment. However, researchers believe that a blood test like this could help to identify those who may be good candidates for clinical trials of early interventions.

While these results are promising, the test still needs to be researched and refined further before it would be ready for use. At the moment, it is not clear whether this blood test would eventually be more affordable than the traditional methods of detection, like brain scans and spinal taps.

Further Reading:

A. Nakamura et al. High performance plasma amyloid- biomarkers for Alzheimers disease. Nature Published online January 31, 2018. doi:10.1038/nature25456.

V. Ovod et al. Amyloid concentrations and stable isotope labeling kinetics of human plasma specific to central nervous system amyloidosis. Alzheimers & Dementia. Vol. 13, August 2017, p. 841. doi:10.1016/j.jalz.2017.06.2266.

L. Hamers. A blood test could predict the risk of Alzheimers disease. Science News. February 1, 2018.

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