A blood test that predicts Alzheimer’s two to three years before patients have symptoms has been discovered by a research team. "This is a potential game-changer," said Dr. Howard Federoff, who is the senior author of the report and a neurologist at Georgetown University Medical Center, according to a March 9, 2014, CNN report. "My level of enthusiasm is very high."
About five years ago, in a desperate search to find an indicator on who would develop Alzheimer’s or not, Dr. Howard Federoff and his research team drew blood from hundreds of healthy people over the age of 70 who lived near Rochester in New York, and Irvine in California.
Unlike other expensive research, Dr. Federoff’s team was hoping to be able to use a simple blood test to predict who would most likely develop Alzheimer's.
After five years, 28 of the people over the age of 70 had developed the disease or showed the early symptoms.
In comparison with the other healthy seniors, the research team discovered that the blood tests of the 28 affected seniors showed low levels of 10 particular lipids, which are fatty chemicals. As membranes of the brain cells affected by Alzheimer's begin to break down, the levels of the lipids decrease.
To confirm that the blood test for lipids could indeed predict the disease, the research team analyzed the blood of 54 other patients and also discovered low levels of the fatty chemicals.
“Overall, the blood test predicted who would get Alzheimer's or mild cognitive impairment with over 90% accuracy.”
"We were surprised," said Mark Mapstone, who is a neuropsychologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center and lead author of the study. "But it turns out that it appears we were looking in the right place."
According to Mapstone, the blood test shows that lipids start to decrease at the same time as brain cells start dying, but before a person notices the signs of the disease.
The detailed research on how the blood test predicts Alzheimer’s is scheduled to be published in the April issue of Nature Medicine. In the meantime, the researchers are working on “a pre-clinical disease biomarker test that could be useful for large-scale screening to identify at-risk individuals” and on trying out the blood test in people in their 40s and 50s. In regard to whether or not someone that young would want to know that they will be facing Alheimer’s, Dr. Howard Federoff says, “I think it's a very personal decision.”