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Blood Test for Alzheimer’s Disease?

One of the main objectives, for dementia researchers, is a test that will definitely diagnose the presence of dementia (or what form of dementia a person has).  Often this has involved the hunt for some sort of biological marker, usually in the blood or in the brain.  One reason that this kind of research is so significant is that, up to now, the only way to conclusively determine that an individual has dementia is at autopsy, or by using tests that are not only very expensive and painful but also more than a little dangerous.  It’s possible to add up a list of physical and behavioral symptoms, that will point with a pretty fair amount of accuracy whether a person has Alzheimer’s or Lew Body (for example), but at best you’ll be making an educated guess.

Well, if the results of a new study can be validated, we may be a step closer to a blood test to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease.  According to a report published online this month, in the journal Neurology, William Hu at the Emory University School of Medicine, and his colleagues, have identified four biomarkers consistently associated with the presence of Alzheimer’s disease, very mild dementia, and mild cognitive impairment.

These scientists, along with others at the University of Pennsylvania and Washington University in St. Louis, studied two groups totaling 600 participants.  Their results were then validated with participants from the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative.  They started by looking at 190 proteins and peptides found in the blood of participants (who included healthy volunteers as well as individuals who had been diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment).   Of these 190 compounds, researchers found 17 that were significantly different in persons with AD or MCI.

The next step was to test for these 17 potential markers in 566 participants from the ADNI.  Four of these showed up consistently in all three groups tested.  Additionally, the levels of these four markers showed changes consistent with beta amyloid protein levels from the cerebrospinal flud of individuals previously diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

While these findings are indeed very significant, researchers are not yet ready to say they have a blood test that will identify, without doubt, that a person has Alzheimer’s.  One challenge that remains is to prove that these markers are unique to Alzheimer’s, in part due to the low numbers of study participants who had non-Alzheimer’s dementia.  Another is that the three studied groups each contained different percentages of individuals who had Alzheimer’s as opposed to mild cognitive impairment.

However, this is still a big step in the right direction.  It does, however, point to some definite questions for future research.  Hopefully, with larger groups of participants that include individuals with different forms of dementia, we will soon see an announcement of ground-breaking results in the identification of Alzheimer’s disease.

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