Alzheimer’s Disease is a disease that currently can only be managed by medications. The disease might now be predictable with the use of two simple tests: one analyzes blood and the other examines spinal fluid. The blood test was created in a study that was run by a group at Georgetown University and had 525 participants. The participants were followed over a period of time to see if they developed memory loss, a key symptom of Alzheimer’s Disease, and were at least 70 years old. Howard Federoff, who is the executive vice president for health sciences for Georgetown University as well as a professor of neurology at the college and the leader of the study said that the researchers compared the results of 50 participants who developed memory loss against 50 who did not develop it. They found that there were 10 fats that separated the two groups. Federoff continued by saying that the test was validated by testing another 40 participants to look for the same fat levels.
Federoff also said the test was 90 percent accurate in distinguishing people who have healthy brains and those who have diseased ones. Robert Stern, a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine and who directs clinical research at the school’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center, said that a reliable test that found no trace of the disease may allow people to feel better the next time they lose their car keys. Stern also said that a positive test done years ahead of time will be heartbreaking but would allow the person to prepare while they still can. A second simple test, called a lumbar puncture, that will make Alzheimer’s Disease predictable examines cerebrospinal fluid also known as spinal fluid.
In the past, scientists thought amyloid plaques was the problem associated with the disease. Claudio Soto from the University of Texas Medical School of Houston said that it is now clear that those aggregates are not the major culprit but it is the aggregates’s precursors. The precursors are a group of molecules called Amyloid-Beta (Aβ) oligomers. Soto continues by saying that it is the main molecule that could be the finest, most reliable means to make an early diagnosis. He also says that is the largest problem in the medical field because physicians cannot identify them until patients are already ill. Soto adds that the amyloid beta oligomers can be in a person’s body years or even decades before they show cognitive symptoms.
Soto and his colleagues used a technology they developed to detect misfolded proteins in prion diseases such as Mad Cow Disease. The technology, called protein misfolding cyclic amplification, works by exaggerating existing proteins that misfolded and separating them into smaller pieces. When these pieces are mixed with normal proteins, the pieces act as seeds in the formation, in terms of amyloid beta, of amyloid clumps that can be found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s Disease.
The results of the study that was published in the journal Cell Reports showed that the technique allows physicians and researchers to detect the amyloid beta oligomers at very low levels. After they conducted an experiment that tested the cerebrospinal fluid from patients with Alzheimer’s as well as other neurological disorders, they were able to distinguish between the two samples with 92 percent specificity and 90 percent sensitivity.
Alzheimer’s Disease might now be predictable with two simple tests that could help doctors diagnose the disease before symptoms arise. The first test, a blood test, was studied on 525 patients who were then monitored to see if they develop memory loss. The test results showed 10 lipids or fats that set both groups apart. Stern said the test needs to be studied more before it can be used outside of clinical trials. He also said that the participants were mostly white, so he is not sure if the test will be as effective in other races. The cerebrealspinal fluid test examined the amyloid beta oligomers to see if it was the key to the disease. The results of the test showed low levels of the oligomers in the fluid and also could distinguish between the two samples. Soto plans to continue the research by adapting the technology to test blood or urine samples. He says that the test will be easier to obtain to screen healthy people for the biochemical signs of the disease. The group also will continue to examine the test’s ability to find diseases before symptoms appear.
By Jordan Bonte