During the Society for Neuroscience conference, scientists from the National Institute of Ageing in Maryland, US, have announced the preliminary results of a blood test that could identify proteins in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) patients. The study included 189 participants, from which 57 had mild cognitive impairment or dementia associated with AD, 16 had frontotemporal dementia and 92 were healthy individuals. Additionally, 24 elderly patients were observed in different circumstances.

The detection of proteins such as beta-amyloid and TAU through blood tests could assist doctors in predicting the likelihood of a patient developing Alzheimer's disease in the future // Credit: Jeremy L. Grisham - U.S. Navy
The detection of proteins such as beta-amyloid and TAU through blood tests could assist doctors in predicting the likelihood of a patient developing Alzheimer’s disease in the future // Credit: Jeremy L. Grisham – U.S. Navy

The objective was to isolate and identify the proteins that are shed from brain cells into the blood, particularly proteins known to be associated with AD. The test, which was performed in all 189 patients and showed a 96% accuracy rate, demonstrated that Alzheimer’s disease patients had much higher concentrations of three AD-related proteins when compared to those with no cognitive impairment or dementia. The result was the same for the 24 patients who had blood collected in two situations (before, and 1 to 10 years after, the development of dementia), as they also presented high levels of these proteins in later samples – further supporting the difference between healthy individuals and dementia patients.

“Dementia research has grown exponentially over the past couple of decades as the number of cases has increased,” said Sophie Evans, a final year Biomedical Science student at UWE whose dissertation is on changes in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. “There has been little hope for a cure or treatment, and even diagnosis is not currently certain before a person has died. Being able to give some certainty to patients and their families when they are facing something so difficult, using advances such as the blood test, will help healthcare teams to provide better care for people with dementia.”

A neurodegenerative disease with poor prognosis and few treatment options; it is estimated AD only accounts for 55% of the 800,000 cases of dementia in the UK, a number that is expected to rise above a million by 2025. However, many individuals go undiagnosed with less than 45% being diagnosed at all, especially due to a lack of accurate diagnostic tools being available at the moment.

Although this novel method for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages is not too far into the future, the scientists responsible for the study informed it still has to be replicated with a larger group of people to confirm the findings and assure it is indeed reliable. If so, the healthcare community will experience an improvement in patient care and potentially be a step closer to higher quality treatments, which would dramatically reduce the expected rise in the number of cases of dementia in the UK – and maybe even the whole world.

By Marcela Usmari Moraes