Scientists have developed a new blood test that they claim could detect whether or not a person will develop dementia within three years.
A study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, identified 10 molecules in blood could be used to predict with at least 90% accuracy whether people will go on to develop mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s. Researchers believe that a blood test for Alzheimer’s could help in the search for a therapy or cure by identifying those people in the population at highest risk and who could therefore benefit most from experimental treatments.
The blood test is based on analysing the fatty chemicals known as lipids circulating in the bloodstream, which begin to change as a result of a breakdown in the membranes of the brain cells associated with Alzheimer’s. Researcher Howard Federoff took blood samples from hundreds of healthy men and women aged 70-plus. During the next five years, some developed Alzheimer’s. Their blood samples were then compared with the samples taken from the people who remained free of the disease.
This flagged up a battery of ten fats that were present in lower amounts in the blood of those who went on to develop memory problems – despite them appearing healthy at the time they gave blood. Dr Federoff then confirmed the finding on a second group.
Midway through the research, the authors analysed 53 patients who already had one of the conditions and 53 “cognitively normal” people.They discovered 10 molecules that appeared to “reveal the breakdown of neural cell membranes in participants who develop symptoms of cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s. They then tested other participants’ blood to see whether these biomarkers could predict whether or not they would go on to develop the conditions.
By measuring the presence of 10 compounds the researchers could predict with 90% accuracy people that would go on to suffer from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or Alzheimer’s (AD). Professor Howard Federoff said, “The lipid panel was able to distinguish with 90% accuracy these two distinct groups: cognitively normal participants who would progress to MCI or AD within two to three years, and those who would remain normal in the near future
Dr Simon Ridley, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said, “More work is needed to confirm these findings, but a blood test to identify people at risk of Alzheimer’s would be a real step forward for research.” Doug Brown, director of research and development at the Alzheimer’s Society, said it is the first time that a blood test has been developed for the disorder, but there are problems in working out how it can be used in practice.