New Alzheimer’s disease research suggests that a distinctive odor in urine may allow for early detection in patients. This new research could lead to a non-invasive smell test that will pick up the scent of the brain disease before it has a chance to take hold.
In a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, a team of researchers from the Monell Center say urine odor may indicate the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. While the brain disease is only found in humans, the researchers studied the urine of genetically-modified mice to find out how the condition affects individuals.
One pathological indicator of Alzheimer’s disease is a build-up of plaque deposits in the brain. For the experiments, researchers introduced an altered human gene into the mice to mimic this effect. Researchers then carefully analyzed the behavior and chemical changes in their urine over time.
As the plaque built up, scientists discovered that the modified mice produced a unique urinary odor that could be easily distinguished from the non-modified, control mice. The research showed the odor was not caused by new chemical compounds but a change in the concentrations of existing compounds already present in the urine.
These findings led the scientists to conclude it was the gene that resulted in the distinctive odor rather than the specific development of Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, the research says that it is likely a urine smell test could reveal other brain disorders as well.
“Now we have evidence that urinary odor signatures can be altered by changes in the brain characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Bruce Kimball, a chemical ecologist at the USDA National Wildlife Research Center, in a press release. “This finding may also have implications for other neurologic disease.”
A common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease afflicts 5.1 million Americans aged 65 and older. Alzheimer’s disease is difficult to detect, and there is no conclusive test to identify the illness in living persons. Something as simple as a smell test could go a long way in catching the disease early.
Currently, there is no way to stop or reverse the condition, but an accurate diagnosis would give patients and families more time to plan and seek therapy options. Should the smell test work in humans, early detection of Alzheimer’s disease could even lead the way for new procedures that may slow its progression or stop it completely.
“While this research is at the proof-of-concept stage, the identification of distinctive odor signatures may someday point the way to human biomarkers to identify Alzheimer’s at early stages,” said study author Daniel Wesson, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.
Although many researchers are excited about the smell test, effective treatments for Alzheimer’s are still almost a decade away.
Professor John Hardy, a dementia expert from University College London, thinks current research is on the cusp of some major breakthroughs in the treatment of Alzheimer’s. However, he says drugs capable of significantly slowing or stopping the development of the condition won’t be available until at least 2025.
Two drugs, Solanezumab and Aducanumab, have already shown promise. Initial trials demonstrate that if taken early enough, both have the ability to effectively target and destroy the plaque in the brain that is normally associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The drugs actually go after the specific cause of the condition rather than just alleviating the symptoms.
“When you are on the right road, you put your foot on the accelerator and you can go quicker, so those results are [the] key,” said Hardy
In a related Inquisitr report, researchers have been looking for other ways to combat Alzheimer’s disease. Some scientists are looking at the possibility of using natural treatments, like herbal remedies, instead of government-approved drugs.
Although the urine smell test experiments hold a lot of promise for current Alzheimer’s disease research, more studies will need to be done before scientists will be able to accurately identify and treat the ailment in humans.
[Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images]