Researchers are developing a blood test that can reliably detect Alzheimer’s disease
When doctors need to confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, they often turn to a combination of brain imaging and cell analysis. Both have their downsides. The latter involves a lumbar puncture, an invasive and painful procedure commonly known as a spinal tap. The doctor will insert a needle into the lower back to take a sample of the patient’s cerebrospinal fluid. A lab technician then examines the sample for signs of progressive nerve cell loss and excessive accumulation of amyloid and tau proteins. MRI scanning is less invasive, but is often expensive and availability is a problem; not every community has access to technology.
The next best tool for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease is a blood test. While some can detect abnormal amounts of tau protein, they are less effective at detecting signs of neurodegeneration. But that could soon change. This week, in the magazine , a multinational team of researchers from Sweden, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States detailed a new antibody-based blood test they recently developed. A new test can detect brain-derived tau proteins that are specific to Alzheimer’s disease. After studying 600 patients, the team found that their test could reliably distinguish the disease from other neurodegenerative diseases.
dr. Thomas Karikari, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and one of the co-authors of the study, he hopes the discovery could help other researchers design better clinical trials to treat Alzheimer’s disease. “The blood test is cheaper, safer and easier to administer, and can improve clinical confidence in diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease and selecting participants for clinical trials and monitoring the disease,” he said. There is still work to do before the test reaches your local hospital. For starters, the team must confirm that it works on a wide range of patients, including those from different ethnic backgrounds.
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