Researchers have identified a set of proteins present in the blood which can be used to predict the onset of Alzheimer’s with almost 90% accuracy. The team believes that this discovery could not only be used to improve clinical trials for Alzheimer’s drugs, but it may also eventually lead to a blood test for Alzheimer’s. The study has been published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia.
Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, usually affecting people over the age of 65. Currently, 44 million people worldwide have dementia; this is predicted to rise to 135 million in 2050. Unfortunately, there are no effective drug treatments for Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, between 2002 and 2012, 99.6% of trials aimed at thwarting or reversing Alzheimer’s failed. Researchers believe that this is because patients are treated too late, given the fact that symptoms don’t usually appear for around 10 years after disease onset.
Researchers therefore wanted to find a way to identify patients presenting mild cognitive impairment that will likely develop Alzheimer’s in order to enroll them into clinical trials. It is hoped that this will speed up the discovery of drugs that can prevent or treat the condition.
For the study, researchers from Oxford University and King’s College London analyzed the blood of over 1,000 individuals; 476 had Alzheimer’s, 220 had mild cognitive impairment and 452 were elderly controls without dementia. The team was interested in the levels of 26 proteins that were previously found to be associated with Alzheimer’s.
They discovered that of these proteins, 10 were strongly associated with disease severity and progression. Furthermore, these proteins in combination could be used to predict whether individuals with mild cognitive decline would develop Alzheimer’s within one year with a high level of accuracy (87%).
“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,” said lead researcher Simon Lovestone in a news-release. “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.”
According to study co-author Ian Pike, the team is currently in the process of identifying commercial partners in order to combine these protein markers into a blood test for the global market. However, he says that it will be some years before researchers can be certain that the tests are suitable for clinical use.
Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, told the BBC that while he believes this may be a step towards making Alzheimer’s a preventable disease, the current accuracy levels could risk telling healthy people that they may develop Alzheimer’s which could lead to anxiety and depression. Furthermore, given that there is currently no cure, will people want to know?
“I think it will give patients and family members a degree of clarity of what the future may hold,” Pike told New Scientist, “which allows you to plan for the inevitable.”
Header image: "The Unwelcome Season," by John, via Flickr, used in accordance with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.