“Ongoing research is changing the outlook on Alzheimer’s from hopeless to hopeful”

Up to two decades before people develop the characteristic memory loss and confusion of Alzheimer’s disease, damaging clumps of protein start to build up in their brains. Now, a blood test to detect such early brain changes has moved one step closer to clinical use.

Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis report (see HERE) that they can measure levels of the Alzheimer’s protein amyloid beta in the blood and use such levels to predict whether the protein has accumulated in the brain. When blood amyloid levels are combined with two other major Alzheimer’s risk factors — age and the presence of the genetic variant APOE4 — people with early Alzheimer’s brain changes can be identified with 94% accuracy, the study found.

The findings, published Aug. 1 in the journal Neurology, represent another step toward a blood test to identify people on track to develop Alzheimer’s before symptoms arise. Surprisingly, the test may be even more sensitive than the gold standard — a PET brain scan — at detecting the beginnings of amyloid deposition in the brain.

Alzheimer patients positive prospect

Such a test may become available at doctors’ offices within a few years, but its benefits will be much greater once there are treatments to halt the disease process and forestall dementia. Clinical trials of preventive drug candidates have been hampered by the difficulty of identifying participants who have Alzheimer’s brain changes but no cognitive problems. The blood test could provide a way to efficiently screen for people with early signs of disease so they can participate in clinical trials evaluating whether drugs can prevent Alzheimer’s dementia (read more HERE).

The Alzheimer’s specialists says there is growing consensus among neurologists that Alzheimer’s treatment needs to begin as early as possible, ideally before any cognitive symptoms arise. By the time people become forgetful, their brains are so severely damaged no therapy is likely to fully heal them. But testing preventive treatments requires screening thousands of healthy people to find a study population of people with amyloid build-up and no cognitive problems, a slow and expensive process. For the first time this new test could open a hopeful avenue to treat and prevent this disease.