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Crucial step taken toward simple Alzheimer's blood test

PET image human brain
Jens Maus (public domain)

According to a Monday story published by Reuters, a group of British scientists have identified a set of 10 proteins in human blood that can predict the onset of Alzheimer’s. This is a crucial step in developing a simple blood test that can indicate who will get the disease years before symptoms become manifest. This in turn will lead to the development of treatments that can be used to delay the onset of the disease, eventually staving it off entirely.

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia suffered by many people as they age. The initial symptoms manifest as difficulty with short term memory and a difficulty to retain information that has been recently learned. Symptoms get steadily worse over time, with mood changes, increasing confusion and unfounded suspicions, and finally difficulties with physical activities such as speaking, swallowing, and walking. There is no cure, but there are some treatments that stave off the disease for a time.

Alzheimer’s was estimated to affect 44 million people world-wide, a number that is set to triple by 2050. In 2010 it cost $604 billion dollars. Clearly with an aging population, something needs to be done to alleviate the burden of the disease that afflicts sufferers and caregivers alike.

The trick for developing treatments for Alzheimer’s is that often drugs prove to be ineffective if they are used too late in the progress of the disease. If a blood test can be developed that can predict that a person will develop the disease long before symptoms like memory impairment becomes manifest, treatments can be developed to address the root causes of Alzheimer’s. Millions of people who would otherwise become invalids and a tremendous burden on their families and the health care system will be able to live their twilight years with some measure of independence and relative health.

The development of the blood test is not exactly around the corner. The 10 proteins that have been identified would be able to predict the onset of Alzheimer’s with a less than 90 percent accuracy. That means that ten percent of people tested would get an incorrect result. Clearly accuracy needs to be enhanced before the blood test can be available in a clinical setting.