New Blood Test Can Detect Alzheimer's Disease, Say Scientists in Breakthrough
The new test can detect a novel marker of the deadly disease.
While current tests involve expensive scans or painful lumbar puncture, "a blood test is cheaper, safer and easier to administer, and it can improve clinical confidence in diagnosing Alzheimer's and selecting participants for clinical trial and disease monitoring," Professor Thomas Karikari at the University of Pittsburgh, who was involved in the study, said in a statement.
Alzheimer's disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects memory, thinking, and behavior. It is the most common cause of dementia in older adults. Earlier detection of the disease could lead to earlier treatment, potentially diminishing the deteriorative effects.
Read on to discover when the test might be available for you.
The three main markers of Alzheimer's disease are:
Amyloid plaques: These are abnormal clusters of protein fragments that build up between nerve cells in the brain.
Neurofibrillary tangles: These are twisted strands of protein that accumulate inside nerve cells in the brain.
Neurodegeneration: This is the loss of nerve cells and connections in the brain, which leads to atrophy (shrinkage) of brain tissue.
However, the presence of these markers alone is not sufficient to diagnose Alzheimer's disease, as they can also be found in other neurological conditions. A definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease can only be made through a comprehensive evaluation that includes a thorough medical history, physical and neurological examination, and imaging and laboratory tests.
The new blood test could skip some of these steps. That would be good news for those wanting to avoid a lumbar puncture, in which a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is drawn from the lower back. And great news for those who cannot find or afford these more expensive tests.
"A lot of patients, even in the US, don't have access to MRI and PET scanners. Accessibility is a major issue," said Professor Karikari.
The new test can detect a novel marker of Alzheimer's disease neurodegeneration in a blood sample. "The biomarker, called 'brain-derived tau,' or BD-tau, outperforms current blood diagnostic tests used to detect Alzheimer's-related neurodegeneration clinically. It is specific to Alzheimer's disease and correlates well with Alzheimer's neurodegeneration biomarkers in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)," says the University of Pittsburgh.
"The most important utility of blood biomarkers is to make people's lives better and to improve clinical confidence and risk prediction in Alzheimer's disease diagnosis," Karikari said.
The test is still being studied for effectiveness. "Karikari and his team are planning to conduct large-scale clinical validation of blood BD-tau in a wide range of research groups, including those that recruit participants from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, from memory clinics, and from the community.
"Additionally, these studies will include older adults with no biological evidence of Alzheimer's disease as well as those at different stages of the disease. These projects are crucial to ensure that the biomarker results are generalizable to people from all backgrounds, and will pave the way to making BD-tau commercially available for widespread clinical and prognostic use," says the University of Pittsburgh.
There are several warning signs of Alzheimer's disease that may indicate that a person is experiencing cognitive decline. These signs may include:
Memory loss: Difficulty remembering recently learned information or repeatedly asking the same questions.
Difficulty completing familiar tasks: Struggling to plan or complete everyday tasks, such as getting dressed or making a meal.
Disorientation: Getting lost in familiar places or forgetting the date or season.
Difficulty communicating: Struggling to find the right words or having a hard time following or joining a conversation.
Poor judgment: Making poor decisions or exhibiting reckless behavior.
Withdrawal from social activities: Losing interest in hobbies, social activities, or personal care.
Changes in mood or behavior: Experiencing sudden mood swings or behaving out of character.
While there is no sure way to prevent Alzheimer's disease, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing the condition. Here are a few tips for preventing Alzheimer's disease:
Exercise regularly: Regular physical activity has been shown to improve brain health and reduce the risk of cognitive decline. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise.
Eat a healthy diet: A diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in processed and unhealthy fats may help lower your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Some research suggests that the Mediterranean diet, which is high in plant-based foods and fish, may be particularly beneficial for brain health.
Stay mentally active: Engaging in mentally stimulating activities, such as reading, puzzles, and learning new things, can help keep your brain sharp and may reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
Get enough sleep: Adequate sleep is important for overall health, including brain health. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
Manage stress: Chronic stress has been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease. Consider finding ways to manage stress, such as through meditation, yoga, or talking to a therapist.