Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, afflicting more than 5 million people throughout the U.S. While there is no cure available for the disease, news reports on Sunday delivered exciting news that researchers have established a test for the disease that can accurately predict the onset of Alzheimer’s in patients. The findings, which have been published in Nature Medicine, are now set to be tested in larger clinical trials.
Currently, nearly 44 million people around the world suffer from dementia and it is estimated that the total will double over the next 20 years. Statistics state that one in three people will develop some form of dementia in their lifetime, and that, while treatments exist to help reduce the symptoms of the disease, they do not help slow its overall progression. The new test will be incredibly useful in better determining the risk of developing the disease.
The difficulty in early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s lies in the fact that it progresses silently in the brain for more than 10 years before any noticeable symptoms manifest themselves. Some doctors believe that for this reason, by the time Alzheimer’s has been diagnosed, it has advanced past the point where any medical treatment could effectively act against further progression.
The new test, which assesses levels of 10 fats in the blood, could predict with 90 percent accuracy, can predict the risk of developing Alzheimer’s within three years of its onset. A five-year study, conducted by scientists at Georgetown University, took blood samples from 525 people over the age of 70. Upon analysis they found noticeable differences in the blood lipid levels of the subjects.
The test divided the samples into those that had already developed Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment and those who were still mentally agile. When individuals of the two groups took the test, there was a difference in the presence of 10 lipids in the blood stream. The subjects who showed cognitive impairments had significantly lower levels of the 10 lipids, while those who were cognitively normal show significantly higher levels of the 10 lipids.
The scientists argue that low blood lipids count of the 10 lipids assessed predisposes the individual to developing symptoms. The levels of the 10 lipids will serve as biomarkers which can be used as a way to assess a persons chances of manifesting the disease in the coming years. A test in this way, if proven successful in larger trials, will mark a real step forward according to experts. It would effectively allow treatment drugs to be tested much earlier on, which might play a role in slowing or stopping the progression of Alzheimer’s in patients. Howard Federoff, a professor of neurology at Georgetown University says that this test will have a huge impact on the future of this field and that, “even a short delay of symptoms will have a tremendous economic benefit in terms of the cost of care.”
This test serves to open the door to better methods of diagnosis for Alzheimer’s, while enabling patients to seek out support and treatment much sooner than they would have been able to in the past. Scientists believe that a test for Alzheimer’s will help predict the onset of the disease, which will provide the best hope of finding a breakthrough treatment to not only slow the advancement of the disease, but stop its progression altogether.
By Natalia Sanchez