Scientists one step closer to detecting Alzheimer’s early with a blood test

Jul 30, 2020
Researchers are looking into a blood test that could detect Alzheimer's disease early. Source: Getty.

Scientists say they are one step closer to finding a blood test that could detect Alzheimer’s disease early.

Several studies presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) on Tuesday showed it was possible to measure the levels of a protein called tau, one of the hallmark signs of Alzheimer’s disease, in the blood. Results were published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine (JEM ) and Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The first study found that blood levels of the protein, known as p-tau-217, are elevated during the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers found that p-tau-217 levels in the blood were extremely low in healthy volunteers but elevated in patients with amyloid plaques, a sign of Alzheimer’s disease. A second study showed that blood plasma p-tau-217 was able to differentiate Alzheimer’s disease from other neurodegenerative diseases.

“Our findings support the idea that tau isoforms in the blood are potentially useful for detecting and diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease pathology,” lead researcher Randall Bateman said. “Moreover, our assay for measuring plasma tau levels could be used as a highly sensitive screening tool to identify tau changes associated with amyloid plaque formation in normal subjects, replacing costly PET imaging”

Meanwhile, Dr Ian Musgrave from the University of Adelaide said the recent findings are a great step in the right direction.

“A blood test that could diagnose Alzheimer’s disease early is highly desirable,” he said. “The two publications in the Journal of Experimental Medicine and JAMA represent a step in that direction. Both report on measuring levels of a form of tau which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease in blood. Both show a good association with Alzheimer’s disease and the ability to discriminate between Alzheimer’s and other forms of neurodegeneration.

“Importantly, these tests may be able to pick up Alzheimer’s before significant damage has occurred. However, there is still a way to go. The numbers of subjects are relatively low and these tests will need to be trialed in larger population groups with more diverse clinical conditions to ensure accuracy.”

Professor Colin L Masters from the University of Melbourne added: “These two independent papers provide compelling evidence that it is possible to use blood plasma assays of p-tau to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease specifically and with a high degree of accuracy.

“Two different methods were used (mass spectrometry and immunoassay), and both methods worked very well. Using a large cohort of subjects at genetic risk of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, the test appears to work many years before the onset of clinical symptoms.”

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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