According to the Alzheimer’s Society, the disease affects over 500,000 people in the UK alone and the estimated cost of care was $26.3 billion in 2017. Currently there are no treatments available for Alzheimer’s. However, scientists are agreed that early detection can speed up the access to therapy and substantially improve the quality of life for patients.
Because detecting Alzheimer’s as early as possible is so important, researchers have been looking for new methods of screening for some time. Now, a team of scientists have developed a new blood test that could be used to detect early warning signs of the disease developing in individuals. This study follows previous tests that have been developed to help detect Alzheimer’s sooner. For example, one carried out in 2017 showed an 86% success rate.
The blood test is non-invasive and developed to detect presence of amyloid beta – the toxic protein known to be present in those affected by Alzheimer’s. The build-up of this protein on the brain is known to be one of the key signs of the dementia. According to the study, the test was shown to be accurate in 90% of cases.
“This test is at least as good as current brain scan techniques and far surpasses existing blood tests,” said Colin Masters, professor of dementia research at Melbourne’s Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, who led the study. However, despite the positive results seen in the study, the researchers warned that we are still a long way off being able to use these types of tests in practical settings. Alzheimer’s is a disease that tends to start many years before patients start to experience any symptoms.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there is no straightforward way to diagnose the early onset of dementia in patients, and current methods of screening involve precise evaluations using brain scans and other mental testing. “Progress in developing new therapeutic strategies for Alzheimer’s disease has been disappointingly slow. None of the three drugs currently on the market treat the underlying disease,” Masters said in a statement.
“This is not a blood test for dementia that people who are worried about their memory and concentration should be asking their doctors about,” said Rob Howard, professor of old age psychiatry at University College London, who was not involved in the study. “Not everyone with amyloid in their brains will turn out to have dementia, and not everyone who has dementia will be found to have amyloid in their brains.”
Although this study has been seen as a major breakthrough in Alzheimer’s treatment, the team have highlighted that much more research needs to be done before it can be used in medical settings to diagnose patients. They noted that further research needs to be conducted using a wider sample of individuals to ensure the results are accurate.
“We need to see whether the test works in a larger population, but it has the potential both to speed up clinical trials and help people in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s to access new treatments if and when they become available,” said Doug Brown, policy and research officer at the Alzheimer’s Society UK. Carol Routledge, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, added that “further work with more people will need to build on this study to understand how well this approach could predict those who will go on to develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s in the future.”