Detecting whether or not someone is going to develop Alzheimer’s would revolutionize the treatment of a terrible disease that affects millions of people each year. Now there could be hope on the horizon as researchers claim they have found a non-invasive accurate test for the condition.
One of the main problems with trying to develop a way to treat Alzheimer’s is the simple fact that by the time someone has been diagnosed with the disease, it is often too late. There are no known ways to reverse Alzheimer’s once it has set in, meaning that there has been a great deal of focus on trying to find a way in which doctors and researchers can detect the disease before the symptoms set in.
Again, however, this raises issues. In order to confirm that a reliable marker for Alzheimer's has been identified, researchers have to monitor the patients in their studies to see which ones go on to develop the disease. If they manage to spot any markers, by that point it is too late to do anything to prevent its progression.
But this has not prevented many groups of researchers from hunting for the elusive biomarkers, with many different routes having been explored. One such avenue is looking in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients for proteins associated with Alzheimer’s called beta-amyloids, as it has been suggested that these may change with the progression of the disease. But others are keen to find non-invasive approaches.
This latest study, published in Human Brain Mapping, used magnetoencephalography to scan the brains of people reporting the symptoms of Alzheimer’s as well as those of people who were not, recording their brain activity. They found that in healthy people, the prefrontal regions of the brain reacted to auditory tests, while in people with Alzheimer's symptoms, they did not.
“It is highly probable that these individuals were captured in a preclinical [Alzheimer’s] phase since they show both neuropsychological and neurophysiological impairments characteristic of an [Alzheimer’s] type of dementia, although they did not yet meet clinical criteria for the early phase of symptomatic [Alzheimer’s],” said Sanja Josef Golubic, the study's lead author.
The scientists claim that their test is highly accurate in picking up on the early signs of the disease, and if it proves successful in further tests, it could be significant. It is important, however, to note that the sample size for this initial research was very small, with only 20 people tested, so more evidence will be needed before it can be used clinically.