There might not yet be any cure for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, but doctors are confident that in the future we might be able to halt the development of the condition. This, however, relies on predicting when someone will start down this route, and new research has identified a single protein that might be able to do just that.
In the largest study of its kind, scientists from King’s College London studied more than 100 sets of twins over ten years. During this period, they analyzed 1,129 proteins in the blood of the subjects whilst looking for early signs of mild cognitive impairment. They found that levels of a specific protein, MAPKAPK5, were lowest in those showing signs of cognitive decline.
“Although we are still searching for an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, what we do know is that prevention of the disease is likely to be the more effective than trying to reverse it,” said Dr. Steven Kiddle, lead author of the study. “The next step will be to confirm whether or not our initial finding is specific for Alzheimer’s disease, as this could lead to the development of a reliable blood test which would help clinicians identify suitable people for prevention trials.”
The research, published in Translational Psychiatry, is one of only a handful to have looked at the blood of individuals in order to determine whether or not it could indicate early signs of cognitive decline and the chances of someone developing Alzheimer’s. The hope is that these results might better the design of trials into the prevention of mental decline.
The use of twins meant that the researchers could exclude the factors of genetics or age as swaying the results. The participants' blood samples were then run through what is called a SOMAscan, which allows for large volumes of proteins to be measured simultaneously. In addition to this, the researchers assessed each person with cognitive function tests.
“We’re very optimistic that our research has the potential to benefit the lives of those who don’t currently have symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but are at risk of developing the disease,” said Dr. Claire Steves, who co-authored the study.
Cases of Alzheimer’s is expected to triple by 2050, with as many as 135 million people estimated to be affected worldwide by then. But whether or not a new blood test could provide people with an immediate answer to whether they’ll develop dementia is less certain. “A test you could go in to your doctor to say, 'Do I have Alzheimer's disease or not?' I think that's a long way off,” Kiddle told BBC News.